"After dispatching the First Rhode Island Detached Militia and battery to the seat of the war Governor Sprague, on his own responsibility, began immediately to raise and organize Battery A and the Second Rhode Island Infantry before President Lincoln's second call was made. When the second call for troops come the governor quickly responded, and started immediately with the battery and regiment for Washington, and remained with them and participated in the battle of Bull Run where he rendered conspicuous and gallant service and where his horse was killed under him. Besides being Governor of the State at that time he was also Colonel of the Marine Corps of the Artillery."
The youngest child of
Amasa and Fanny Morgan Sprague, William Sprague was born in Cranston, Rhode Island on Sunday, September 12, 1830.
William IV attended the Irving Institute in Tarrytown, New York until the age of thirteen when his father was taken from him. Amasa Sprague had been the victim of a brutal murder that would haunt William all his life. The murder of Amasa Sprague that would change Rhode Island judical history occured on the birthday of William's mother, Fanny Morgan, December 31, 1843. It was also his parent's wedding anniversary. It became a day that Fanny dreaded the rest of her life.
The death of Amasa but Amasa's younger brother, William in charge of running the mills at Cranston and Natick. William brought his dead brother's sons into A. & W. Sprague Manufacturing Company. Young William began his employment at the company store, sweeping floors. At the age of sixteen, under the watchful of his
Uncle William he was placed in the counting room. From the
counting room he advanced to bookkeeper. Upon the death of his
Uncle William III in 1856, William Sprague IV, at age twenty-six
took his place as a partner with his brother Amasa in the company,
along with their cousin, William's only son Byron Sprague.
William's ability in organization and attention to detail was shown as the Sprague Company's holding began to expand to include manufacturing companies in Rhode Island, Connecticut, Maine and Georgia. The three Sprague's, Amasa, William and Byron petitioned to incorporate and the charter was granted June 2, 1859. The A&W Sprague Manufacturing Company soon was the largest calico printing textile mill in the world. Like his father, Amasa Sprague Jr.s interests lay in the printing of calicos and experimenting with dye recipes and running the business of manufacturing textiles.
Like his Uncle, young William
became interested in politics. He was elected to the office of
Governor in 1860 and re-elected in 1861. At twenty-nine years old
he was the youngest governor in the Union, sometimes he was
referred to as the 'boy governor' a title he may have named
himself for election purposes.
As storm clouds gathered over
the nation, Sprague made trips to Washington to talk with
President Lincoln and Lt. General Winfield Scott. He gave them
his guarantee that his state of Rhode Island would furnish a
infantry regiment and a battery of light artillery for the
defense of Washington. Sprague believed that the rebellion would
last no more than 48 hours, that being how long it would take the
North to whip the South.
Amasa Sprague, a lover of horses, furnished the artillery with their mounts, procuring the finest horses he could find. Amasa was rewarded by his brother with the honorary commission of Colonel
Just three days after Lincoln's call for volunteers in April 1861, the well trained and well equipped "Flying Artillery" left Providence for the front, and on April 28 Colonel Ambrose Burnside and Governor Sprague himself accompanied 142 men of the Rhode Island Detached Militia, from Exchange Place to their fateful encounter with the rebels at Bull Run. Leaving their armory on Thursday afternoon, they marched to Fox Point, from where they sailed to New York, arriving there at 5 PM. While they marched to the Fox Point pier the with volunteers, waving flags, singing their regimental song...
reference: "High Road to Zion", Mathias Harpin.1976
"The gallant young men of Rhode Island
Are marching in haste to the wars:
Full girded for strife, they are hazarding life
In defense of our banner and stars."
They were the second command to reach Washington. The 13th Massachusetts guard beat them by a single day. Camp Sprague was opened in Washington. Back in Rhode Island, workers at the mill, Operatives in the Valley of the Pawtucket formed the Pawtuxet River Female Association for the relief of volunteers. Recruits were honored everywhere in Rhode Island. In camp Sprague around the campfires at night, the recruits would sing..
"Of all the hosts that New England can boast.reference: "High Road to Zion", Mathias Harpin.1976
From down by the sea unto highland
No state is more true or willing to do
Than Dear little Yankee Rhode Island
Loyal and true. Little Rhody
Bully for you, Little Rhody
Governor Sprague was not very vague
When he said, "Shoulder arms, Little Rhody."
On behalf of the firm of A &
W Sprague Manufacturing Company, the Sprague's offered the state
$100,000 to equip the Rhode Island Volunteers. Providence, April 17, 1861 Dear Sirs: We notice that the
Legislation have made an appropriation of $500,000 for the
purpose of enlisting men into Service of the United States.
We take pleasure in offering though your Excellency to take $100,000
of that amount in such installments and of such times as you
may desire. Wishing the State of Rhode Island God speed in
the patriotic endeavor to save our beloved Country in this
hour of her distress from disunion and anarchy we remain. Respectfully Yours, A. & W. Sprague His Excellency William
Sprague Governor of State of Rhode
Providence, April 17, 1861
We notice that the Legislation have made an appropriation of $500,000 for the purpose of enlisting men into Service of the United States. We take pleasure in offering though your Excellency to take $100,000 of that amount in such installments and of such times as you may desire. Wishing the State of Rhode Island God speed in the patriotic endeavor to save our beloved Country in this hour of her distress from disunion and anarchy we remain.
A. & W. Sprague
His Excellency William Sprague
Governor of State of Rhode Island
Governor Sprague participated in the first Battle of Bull. He
rode a white horse into battle, which was shot out from under him.
He quickly mounted another horse and bravely rode on. A second horse was shot out from under him and he had bullets rip through the cloth of his uniform blouse. It was the
first bloody encounter with the enemy, Eleven men of the 1st
Rhode Island were killed on July 21, 1861 including Lieutenant Henry A. Prescott of Company D, thirty-men were
Second Regiment of Rhode Island had lost twenty-eight men,
including Colonel John S. Slocum, < a href="http://historynet.com/acw/blsullivan_ballou">Major Sullivan Ballou
Captain Levi Tower. Fifty-six officers and men were wounded. The
Battle of Bull Run left no doubt that this was not a two day war.
Back in Rhode Island Amasa was scouting the country for horses and the cotton mill was turning out cloth in record breaking production, money was pouring in. The boy governor was becoming the darling of Washington and the press.
Commissioned as a Brigadier General of Volunteers on August 9th 1861, he declined the appointment. On March 3rd 1863, he resigned as Governor to became United States Senator.
The holdings of the Sprague family continued to grow. They purchased land in South Carolina and planned to build factories on the edge of the cotton fields. In Texas and Kansas they owned huge tracks of land, Amasa thought the company could raise horses. In Providence the Sprague's organized the Union Horsecar Railroad Company. William became the president of the New York Steamship Company which operated eight steamers and employed 500 workers. The Spragues controlled the Perkins Street Iron Company, the Rhode Island Horseshoe Company, the American Horseshoe Nail Company, Sprague Mowing Machine Company, the Comstock Stove Foundry and the Sprague Mills. They were also partners in Hoyt, Sprague and Company which owned all the stock in the Delaine Mills in Providence.
In the wedding of the year, on November 12th, 1863 Senator Sprague married the belle and most talked about woman in Washington, Kate Chase the daughter of the Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase. Sprague's wedding gift to his new wife was a tiara of matched pearls and diamonds that cost more then $50,000. As the bride entered the room, the marine band played 'the Kate Chase March' that composer Thomas Mark Clark had written for the occasion.
The Sprague's maintained two households. Their home in Washington was with her father at E and Sixth Street NW. In Rhode Island Kate and William lived in Narragansett at the Canochet Farm. For a few summers Kate was content to live in the old farmhouse until she decided they should build the most extravagant mansion in the area( predating the Newport Mansions by several years). The mansion was a hodgepodge of gothic, Victorian, Italian, and Oriental Styles. Most of which Kate had purchased on her buying trips to Europe. With 68 rooms it was well equipped for the Sprague's many gathering where important political and business figures were entertained. Mrs. Sprague had made Canochet elegant with the idea that it would be serving as the summer White House where she would be hostess for her widowed father.
Chief Justice Chase spent his summers away from the heat and humidity of Washington at Canochet. He thoroughly enjoyed his time there with his grandchildren but he had witnessed disturbing quarrels between Kate and Sprague and tried unsuccessfully to be peacemaker with both sides.
After the death of Chase in 1873
and the Sprague empire crumbling, life and marriage became
turbulent between the Spragues. His financial and political
fortunes fell with the A&W Sprague Company in 1873. William
drank more and complained about Kate's spending. and behaved
violently towards his wife. The Sprague's divorced in 1882. She
spent some time in Europe before returning to her memories in her
father's house in Edgewood outside of Washington, DC where she
lived with her retarded daughter. When her son Willie took his
own life in 1890, Kate withdrew from society. She managed to
survive by working Edgewood as a home farm, raising chickens. She
died a lonely recluse, in poverty in July 1899 at 58.
Following his divorce William Sprague married married Dora Inez Clavert of West Virginia. He regained his interest in politics and became the first Narragansett Town Council President in 1900. He and his new wife restored Canonchet mansion and lived there in the summers. Gone where the massive furnishing and dark colors of Kate. In their place Inez preferred vivid color schemes and gay patterns. Gone also were the quiet parties, in came the gay dancers and singing concerts. Inez thought herself quite the singer and would sing to her guests who politely tolerated her screeching.
August 16th, 1904, over 26,000
survivors of the American Civil War marched in a G.A.R. parade in
Boston, Massachusetts, that told over five and one half hours to
reach the review stand. For many of the old veterans, the hardest
battle they fought was standing and walking in the hot, over
crowded streets. Almost three quarters of the marchers dropped
from exhaustion and prostration. They were cared for at the field
and civic hospitals. Former Governor Sprague marched with the
Attleboro Post of the G.A.R.
On October 11, 1909 apparently
due to a faulty chimney flue, the mansion burned to the ground.
Despite the best efforts of the 69 year old Sprague to save his
diaries, he was overcome by smoke and had to be revived, he
recovered in time to see all his papers and all the valuable
artifacts lost to the fire as well as the house he had once
called 'a tribute to a woman's folly', burn to the ground.
The Spragues then moved to
France. During WWI, Sprague opened his apartment in the Rue de la
Pompe into a convalescent hospital for the wounded of all
On September 11,
1915, William Sprague's life ended when he died of meningitis and
old age. Following a simple funeral services in France, his body
was brought back to Rhode Island draped in both an American Flag and a Rhode Island flag. He
received full military honors when he was laid to rest in the
family tomb at Swan Point Cemetery.
"Sprague probably would not have
minded that his obituaries were short and often inaccurate,
written by men who did not remember him. But, surely he regretted
missing the last great review of the Grand Army of the Republic,
started a few days after his death. Twenty thousand strong, the
loyal Union veterans marched before President Wilson in
commemoration of fifty years of peace between the North and South.
How Sprague would have liked to have been there, riding a white
charger at the head of the Rhode Island troops, the yellow plume
of his hat streaming out behind him, a slim young girl and her
father waiting for him in the shadows.(Belden Thomas G
& Belden Marva R., "So Fell the Angels"
Little,Brown & Co. New York 1956 P355)
Cranston Historical Society
MANSION. (1790, NR) 1351 Cranston Street. Former home of
politically and financially prominent Sprague family. Birthplace
of two Rhode Island governors and current headquarters of the CRANSTON HISTORICAL SOCIETY