Return to Dr. Bronson's St. Augustine History - Territorial
Return to Dr. Bronson' St. Augustine History -
John Titcomb Sprague (1810-1878)
John Titcomb Sprague

Early life
John T. Sprague was born in Newburyport, Massachusetts, on July 3, 1810. He
was the son of an army surgeon. He was a favorite of Secretary of War
Cass who found a position for him in the War Department.

He was commissioned a second lieutenant in the
Marine Corps by President
Andrew Jackson on October 17, 1834, and in the fall of 1836 he directed the
removal of a final band of Creek Indians from
Tallassee, Alabama, to the
trans-Mississippi lands allotted to them.

He had responsibility for conducting a party of 2,287 Creeks of the Kasihta and
Coweta towns to Oklahoma in the fall of 1836. The party left from Chambers
County, Alabama on September 5 and arrived at Fort Gibson on December 10. It
included 45 wagons and 500 ponies. The expedition covered 800 miles by land
and 425 by water.. 29 people died. Sprague's final report stated that as the
expedition moved "Men, who had claims upon these distressed beings, now
preyed upon them without mercy. Fraudulent demands were presented and unless
some friend was near, they were robbed of their horses and even clothing. The
sufferings of the Indians (after leaving Little Rock) were intense. With nothing more
than a cotton garment thrown over them, their feet bare, they were  compelled to
encounter cold, sleeting storms and to travel over hard frozen ground."

The next year Sprague resigned his commission as a 2nd Lieutenant Marine and
became a second lieutenant in the Fifth United States Infantry, where he served
from July 3, 1837, to July 7, 1838, at which time he transferred to the Eighth

2nd Seminole War
The 2nd Seminole War was fought for 7 years against a handful of Seminole
warriors at the cost of $20,000,000. Sprague had sympathy for the Seminoles
stating that: "Their sin is patriotism, as true as ever burned in the breast of the
most civilized."

He was promoted to first lieutenant on May 1, 1839 in a round of musical chair,
and was sent to Florida as an aide to
brevet Maj. Gen. Alexander Macomb, who
had been charged with bringing the interminable Second Seminole War to an end.

Eighth Regiment of Infantry.
o First Lieutenant William O. Kello to be captain, 1st May, 1839, vice Denny,
o First Lieutenant Edmund A. Ogden to be captain, 1st December, 1839, vice
Staniford, promoted.
o Second Lieutenant John T. Sprague to be 1st lieutenant, 1st May, 1839, vice
Kello, promoted.
o Second Lieutenant Lucius O'Brien to be 1st lieutenant, 1st December, 1839, vice
Ogden, promoted.

Col. William Jenkins Worth brought his Eighth Infantry to Florida in 1840,
Sprague, as regimental adjutant not only became Worth's aide, but eventually
married his oldest daughter, Mary. Sprague was brevetted captain on March 15,
1842, for meritorious conduct in the Seminole campaign and was promoted to that
rank on September 21, 1846. On May 30, 1848 Sprague was brevetted a major.
He received a brevet captaincy for gallantry at Pilarklikaha.

A second round musical chair: Eighth Regiment of Infantry.
First Lieutenant John T. Sprague to be captain, September 21, 1846, vice
McKavett, killed in battle.
Second Lieutenant Charles D. Jordan to be first lieutenant, September 21, 1846,
vice Sprague, promoted.
Brevet Second Lieutenant Thomas G. Pitcher, of the Fifth Regiment of Infantry, to
be second lieutenant, September 21, 1846, vice Jordan, promoted.

The following message was received from the President of the United States, by
Mr. Tyler, his secretary:
To the Senate:
Having directed hostilities in Florida to cease, the time seems to have arrived for
distinguishing with appropriate honors the brave Army that have so long
encountered the perils of savage warfare in a country presenting every imaginable
difficulty, and in seasons and under a climate fruitful of disease. The history of the
hardships which our soldiers have endured, of the patience and perseverance
which have enabled them to triumph over obstacles altogether unexampled, and of
the gallantry which they have exhibited on every occasion which a subtle and
skulking foe would allow them to improve, is so familiar as not to require repetition
at my hands. But justice to the officers and men now in Florida demands that their
privations, sufferings, and dauntless exertions during a summer's campaign in
such a climate, which for the first time was witnessed during the last year, should
be specially commended. The foe has not been allowed opportunity either to plant
or to cultivate or to reap. The season, which to him has usually been one of
repose and preparation for renewed conflict, has been vigorously occupied by
incessant and harassing pursuit, by penetrating his hiding places and laying waste
his rude dwellings, and by driving him from swamp to swamp and from everglade
to everglade. True, disease and death have been encountered at the same time
and in the same pursuit, but they have been disregarded by a brave and gallant
Army, determined on fulfilling to the uttermost the duties assigned them, however
inglorious they might esteem the particular service in which they were engaged.

To all who have been thus engaged the executive department, responding to the
universal sentiment of the country, has already awarded the meed of approbation.
There must, however, in all such cases, be some who, availing themselves of the
occasions which fortune afforded, have distinguished themselves for "gallant
actions and meritorious conduct" beyond the usual high gallantry and great merit
which an intelligent public opinion concedes to the whole Army. To express to
these the sense which their Government cherishes of their public conduct, and to
hold up to their fellow-citizens the bright example of their courage, constancy, and
patriotic devotion, would seem to be but the performance of the very duty
contemplated by that provision of our laws which authorizes the issuing of brevet

Fortunately for the country, a long peace, interrupted only by difficulties with
Indians at particular points, has afforded few occasions for the exercise of this
power. And it may be regarded as favorable to the encouragement of a proper
military spirit throughout the Army that an opportunity is now given to evince the
readiness of the Government to reward unusual merit with a peculiar and lasting

I therefore nominate to the Senate the persons whose names are contained in the
accompanying list for brevet commissions for services in Florida. That the number
is large is evidence only of the value of the services rendered during a contest that
has continued nearly as long as the war of the Revolution. The difficulty has been
to reduce the number as much as possible, without injustice to any, and to
accomplish this great and mature consideration has been bestowed on the case of
every officer who has served in Florida.

Washington May 16th, 1842.
War Department, May 16th, 1842.
Sir: Pursuant to your instructions, a list of officers of the Army who by their gallant
actions or meritorious conduct, particularly in the hostilities with the Indians of
Florida, have evinced their worthiness to receive brevet commissions, has been
prepared and is herewith submitted. To insure equal and exact justice, the
major-general commanding the Army was instructed to compile from the official
reports in the Adjutant-General's Office, and has obtained information and advice
from Major-General Jessup and Colonel Worth, and the result is herewith
submitted. Accompanying the list is a compendium of the services of the officers
recommended for brevet.

Upon a careful examination of this compendium, and from the best information that
could be obtained, my entire and hearty concurrence in this list is given, and I
respectfully recommend that the officers whose names are contained in it be
nominated to the Senate for brevet commissions as therein specified.
Most respectfully, your very ob't serv't,

Headquarters of the Army,
May 14, 1842.
The undersigned, in behalf of the Florida Army (from 1835 to 1842), has the honor
respectfully to submit the names of the foregoing thirty-seven officers for the cheap
reward of brevets on account of gallant, efficient, and successful conduct in the
present war against the Florida Indians.

In several of the cases it will be perceived that the brevet recommended would
give no additional grade, but only an earlier date of rank to the officer's present
grade, the officer having, since the particular service was rendered, obtained a
higher grade by appointment or ordinary promotion than he then held. The brevet,
nevertheless, cannot fail to be regarded as an honorary reward; and it may
occasionally, out of the officer's regiment or corps, be effective in precedency, as
on courts-martial and detachments. (See the 61st Article of War.)

The number of officers presented for the distinction of brevets seems great; but
reflection is invited to the length of the war and the number of regiments and of the
staff which have participated in that infinitely difficult and oppressive service.

In the best judgment of the undersigned, after a long and patient consideration,
conducted, as he feels, without prejudice or partiality, each of those selected
officers, beginning with the gallant and gifted Worth (whom the country is impatient
to call general) and ending with several young and gallant 2d lieutenants, has
exhibited, in the prosecution of this war, greater merit than Government could
reasonably, under the circumstances, have expected from good officers generally.
By this selection no reflection is intended on the other officers who have, almost
without an exception, served honorably in the same war, but who, from the want of
isolation or lucky opportunities in the field, did not signalize themselves in conduct
according to rank, their capacities, and wishes for distinction, Good fortune, as is
well known to all campaigners, enters largely into all military successes, and yet is
not the invariable attendant upon the highest degrees of capacity, zeal, and
gallantry. But to the aspirant who happens to unite these elements, each in a high
or respectable degree, fortune sometimes throws opportunity in the way, achieves
for him distinction, and demands the reward. Justice and policy seem to require
that the payment should be made.

Post Seminole War
During the Mexican War Sprague remained in Florida in charge of Indian Affairs
and served as commanding officer at Fort Brook. During Sprague's long tour in
Florida, he became sympathetic to the Seminoles. His book on the Second
Seminole War, published in 1848, was the only full-scale history of that seven-year
conflict for more than a century and is still the indispensable source. Sprague's
Seminole War book :
Origin, Progress and Conclusion of the Florida War, 1848.

Sprague arrived in Texas with elements of the Eighth Infantry in January 1849, in
charge of subsistence. In January 1850 he asked for field duty and was given
temporary command of Fort Inge on the Leona River. There he was to assume
command of a government wagon train that was to follow the road to El Paso that
had been laid out by Lt. Col. Joseph E. Johnston  the year before. Sprague, with E
Company, Eighth Infantry, left Fort Inge on July 1, 1850, and joined the train that
had already reached Las Moras Spring. Sprague took command of the train, which
consisted of 340 wagons, 4,000 animals of all kinds, 450 citizens, and 175
soldiers. Because of its large size and owing to the scarcity of water and grass
along the route, Sprague divided the train into two component groups, led by
Nathaniel C. Lewis and Benjamin F. Coons. Although Indians were continuously
sighted, the train was not attacked but did suffer from the heat and want of water
before arriving at El Paso on September 16. On May 18, 1852, Sprague was
detached from E Company at Fort McKavett, Texas, and was sent East on general
recruiting service. He wrote a journal on the trip titled: J
ournal of a Wagon Train
Expedition from Ft. Inge to El Paso del Norte
, 1850, by Captain and Brevet Major
John t. Sprague.

In June 1855 he was sent back to the Southwest, where he served in both Texas
and New Mexico Territory. He also attempted to get a widow's pension for
Margaret Worth (his mother-in-law) and wife of
William Jenkins Worth for a
disability from the War of 1812.  In New Mexico he saw service against the Navajo,
Apache, and Comanche Indians between the Rio Grande and the Sacramento
Mountains. Before leaving New Mexico in August 1858 he received a "vote of
thanks" from the Territorial Legislature in a joint resolution for his services and was
commended to the President of the United States for promotion.

Between 1858 and 1861 Sprague took a three-year leave of absence from the
army, during which time he promoted a silver mining venture in southeastern New

Civil War
In January 1861 Sprague was again ordered to Texas. He arrived in New Orleans
about March 6 and was subsequently pursued to Texas for openly expressing
Union sentiments and denouncing the Secession Convention then sitting in that
city. Upon his arrival in San Antonio, he was prevented from rejoining his regiment
Fort Bliss and was arrested by a Committee of Public Safety. On April 23, 1861,
Sprague was paroled by Confederate authorities and left Texas for New York. In
June he presented a paper entitled "The Treachery in Texas" to the New York
Historical Society. His monograph was the first detailed account of events leading
to the federal exodus and was a scathing denunciation of the Confederate's
treatment of United States officers and soldiers serving in Texas during the

He was mustering and disbursing agent and adjutant-general of New York. He
was commissioned a Major General in the New York Militia.

He was commissioned a Major and assigned to the 1st Regiment Infantry although
he had been nominated a Major General by Abraham Lincoln (nomination never
passed Senate.) Two years later he was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and
assigned to the Eleventh Regiment, Infantry. He received his final commission on
June 12, 1865 as a Colonel from
Andrew Johnson and was placed in command of
the Seventh Infantry.

At the end of the Civil War Sprague had a conference with
Kirby Smith about
surrendering. In May of 1865 the conference was held but nothing came of it
because Generals Shelby and Parsons were not included in a general pardon.
Kirby Smith was ready to surrender but withheld because of the other Generals.
Col. Sprague returned to Washington. The Confederate generals were planning to
go to Mexico to join
Maximilian's army.

Head Quarters Trans Miss Dpt
Shreveport La 1865
Col. Sprague
The terms proposed by Genl Pope, considering that my army was menaced only
from a distance, that it is large & well supplied, & we are [in] extensive country full
of resources, was not such as a soldier could honorably accept. An officer can
honorably surrender his command when he has resisted to the utmost of his
power, & no hopes rest upon his further efforts. It cannot be said that the duty
imposed upon me has been fulfilled to the extent required by the laws of honorable
warfare[.] To have conceded the terms demanded would therefore have
dishonored the commander who submitted to them[.] It is not contended that the
Trans Miss Department can without assistance accomplish its independence
against the whole power of the United States. It is conceded that its people[,] its
army & its commander desire to avoid the unnecessary effusion of blood & the
attendant disturbance of the Country. It must also be conceded, on the other hand,
that they desire to maintain their honor, with which life would lose its attractions.
As the commander of the military forces[,] I cannot accept terms which will
purchase a certain degree of immunity from devastation, at the expense of the
honor of its army[.] While we do not expect to rise, unaided, the independence of
the Country,  it must be conceded that the army can be beaten & the country
overrun only after great & expensive preparations by the United States affording
opportunities for the development of political combinations which it is the interest
of the United States to avoid.

If there is [to] be an object on the one hand to avoid the devastation of our
Country, it is equally an object on the part of the United States, to bring about the
complete pacification of the Country, & the restoration of their authority without
cost to themselves, & without incurring the risk of political complications.
It is thought that a proper course on the part of the United States Government
would accomplish this result.

An army which is well appointed & supplied, not immediately threatened, & with its
communications open cannot afford to surrender as prisoners of war. They must
first be placed in such a position that their capture is a necessity. The demand to
surrender under present circumstances is not deemed reasonable, & is not in
accordance with the laws which custom has made binding amongst nations &
military men. The effect of such a demand is to leave an impression that there is a
wish on the part of the victorious government, not to pacify the country & lead to a
restoration of former relations, but to humiliate a people who have contended
gallantly in behalf of principles which they believe to be right. It is thought that
correct views of statesmanship would induce propositions on the part of the United
States which while they ____[?] the honor of the Confederate Army would also
lead to the speedy pacification of the Trans Miss Department.

It is the determination of the military authority not to submit to ignominious terms it
is their wish also to hasten the pacification of the Country by every means
consistent with their honor.

The following propositions are of a character so reasonable, under the
circumstances, that it is difficult to conceive of any objection with regard to them.
The United States Authority to grant immunity from prosecution for past acts to all
officers & soldiers & citizens in the Trans Miss Dept.

On the granting of this immunity all military ____[?] to the United States
Government to cease.

The Confederate army to be disbanded & its officers & soldiers to be permitted to
return to their homes, transportation to be furnished as far as practicable

Such officers & soldiers as ____[?] will be permitted without molestation to leave
the country, with or without their arms, in a reasonable time.

The same permission to be granted to citizens.
Many examples of history teach that the more generous the terms proposed by a
victorious enemy, the greater is the certainty of a speedy & lasting pacification, &
that the imposition of harsh terms leads invariably to subsequent disturbances[.]
The propositions above mentioned contain terms which the Trans Miss Dept can
rightly claim & the United States Government can justly concede.
(Signed) E Kirby Smith

In St. Augustine he was on the founding board of the Buckingham Smith Home.

Colonel Sprague was appointed by Major General John Pope as the head of the
sub-district of Florida under the Reconstruction Acts of 1867. He had his
headquarters in Tallahassee and later at Jacksonville (he had his headquarters in
St. Augustine for a time but because there was no telegraph he was ordered to
move. At his disposal he had ten companies of the 7th Infantry and six companies
of the 5th US Artillery for a total of 1,115 soldiers. Four days later Sprague was
told to divide Florida into districts for the registration of voters as required by the
Supplementary Reconstruction Act of March 23. The law provided that registrants
must take the "iron-clad oath."

Sprague announced that "the statutes of the State, made and provided for the
execution of the law, must be complied with, and before any step may be taken by
the Federal military authorities all other means must be exhausted. If the sheriff is
unable to execute the law, the governor of the state should be applied to, when he
will adopt such means as will ensure the execution of the laws of the state."

Colonel Sprague in February 1867 told General
O O Howard how Emancipation
Day was kept by the Freedmen in Florida: "In all the principal towns of the State
they assembled in large bodies. Processions paraded the streets bearing United
States banners. Meetings were held and addressed by agents of the Bureau, and
the day ended in dances and suppers."

St. Augustine Feb 2, 1867
The Schooner
John T. Sprague was successfully launched last Thursday. She
seemed very loath to leave her elevated position, and it was only after continual
persuasion, by means of ropes, pulley and capstans that she finally started off and
slid gracefully into the water. This is the first vessel that has been built here for
many years. We wish her and her enterprising builders every success.

In January 1867 Colonel Sprague came to the Key Biscayne area in hopes of
seeing Seminole tribal members. Landing at Fort Dallas he learned that eighty or
ninety Seminoles lived in the vicinity, although few were ever seen by white
residents. Locals told Colonel Sprague that until recently the natives had paid
visits to Fort Dallas on a regular basis for friendly rounds of bartering. Then,
without warning, "they discontinued their visits and became distrustful and
cautious." Chief Sam Jones's death, Sprague learned, deprived the tribe of
needed leadership, but the colonel believed that the remaining Seminoles in south
Florida had resources enough to begin another war with the United States if they
chose. He recommended their transportation to Arkansas to join their relatives
west of the Mississippi as quickly as possible.

St. Augustine News March 30, 1867
Jacksonville FLA  The force of the battle-axe has at last been felt in this town.
Yesterday Colonel Sprague arrived here from St. Augustine, and through Colonel
Mahoney, of the Freedmen's Bureau, informed the citizens that the town was, from
this date virtually under martial law. The Sergeant of the Corporation was
instructed to inform the Mayor of the fact, also to state, at the election advertised
to take place the first of April for municipal officers, Negroes were to be allowed to

Our people are not prepared for this sudden change, but as it is the will of
Sherman & Co, against the
vox populi of the Southern Sates, they bow an humble

An ice house is being erected in the grounds of the Florida House. It will be kept
filled during the summer. Last year, through the instrumentality of Col. Sprague the
city was supplied with ice at very reasonable rates; but previously we were
debarred that luxury, except at exorbitant prices. Ice is exceedingly desirable here
and we hope that the proprietors of the hotel will be enabled to furnish the citizens
with it.

In 1867 Colonel Sprague recognized that whites were trying to control the
African-American vote. "It is difficult to say what course the white people of the
state will take to control the negro vote."

April 6, 1867
Head Quarters District of Florida, St. Augustine Fla, April 1st 1867 Special Orders,
No. 1

1. The Head Quarters of this District, Office of the Assistant Commissioner of the
Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and abandoned lands, and the Head Quarters of
the 7th U S Infantry, are now established at St. Augustine Fla and in future all
communications for the Commanding Officer or the Assistant Commissioner, will
be addressed to  that place.

By order of Col John T. Sprague
signed  E C Woodruff
Brevet Major USAAAAG Official

April 13, 1867
General Orders No 2

The foregoing order is published for the information of the citizens of the State of
Florida. Martial Law is now in force throughout the State.

The Posts of Key West and Tortugas are included in this Command. Reports and
Returns will be made to these Head Quarters
By order Col John T Sprague
E.C. Woodruff Brevet Major USA AAAG

Special Orders No. 22
William J Reyes is hereby appointed as Locating Agent to relieve C. F. Hopkins
and is assigned to the Counties of Nassau Clay Duval Putnam and St. Johns;
??Post office address, St. Augustine FL
By order of Col John T Sprague

St. Augustine News
We are gratified to learn that the Head Quarters of the District of Florida is to be
continued in this City, and that General Sprague is to remain in command of the
State. His long acquaintance with the people of Fl, his well tried Union sentiments
and the acceptable manner in which his duties have been performed during the
eighteen months past, in bring order out of chaos from the conclusion of hostilities
to the present time, gives assurance, that in the reconstruction we may look for
harmony and success. The military commander of a State is brought immediately
in contact with the people, and it requires on his part sagacity and forbearance to
control the discordant element and to encounter conflicting opinions and the
prejudices of partisan feeling.

The beautiful little Schooner of the above name has again arrived in our harbor,
after a brief absence to Charleston. She came in Monday last. We claim the
John T. Sprague
, as peculiarly our own, having been built here by here
enterprising and gentlemanly owners Messrs Allen and Hernandez. We are glad to
learn that she is doing well. May success ever attend her.

Col Sprague was located in Tallahassee and by 1867 and under him were the
post commanders from lieutenant to lieutenant-colonel, stationed in every town in

At the Florida Constitutional Convention General Meade ordered Col Sprague to
take the  chair on Feb 18 1868 where Horatio Jenkins was elected president and
Billings, Richards, Saunders, and Pearce were expelled because they were not
citizens of Florida and were ineligible for political office. Sprague relinquished
control to Horatio Jenkins. On February 25, the Monticello constitution was
adopted by the convention and submitted to the voters for approval on May 6-8th.

On June 29th Meade gave the order for Col. Sprague to relinquish power. Col
Sprague issued a proclamation that civil government would be resumed on July
4th, 1868. On July 31st the 14th Amendment was ratified by the Florida Legislature.

Sprague had registered 15,441 blacks in Florida to 11, 151 whites and had taken
measures for their quiet instruction through the medium of sub-assistants in their
rights and duties under the Reconstruction Acts. There he commanded the
Seventh Infantry Regiment until April 1869. He retired on December 15, 1870. The
St. Augustine Examiner supported Sprague for Governor in 1872. He did not
receive the Republican nomination.

Col Sprague died in New York City on September 6, 1878. The funeral was held at
St. Georges Church in Stuyvesant Square. He is buried in Albany Rural Cemetery
with his daughter Margaret.
Florida Memory
Grave in Albany, New York
Custom Search
Like us on Facebook
           Col Sprague's Freedmen Bureau Documents

Circular on Horse forage

Circular #1

Board for Rent Determination St. Augustine School
Return to Assorted Documents of the Freedmen's Bureau