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 Lewis Cass who found a position for him in the War Department.
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 Infantry.
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, resigned. 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.
When 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 commissions.
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 distinction.
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. JOHN TYLER.
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, J. C. SPENCER.
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. WINFIELD SCOTT.
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: Journal 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 Mexico.
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 at 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 take-over.
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 Memorandum for 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. 1st The United States Authority to grant immunity from prosecution for past acts to all officers & soldiers & citizens in the Trans Miss Dept.
2nd On the granting of this immunity all military ____[?] to the United States Government to cease.
3rd 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
4th Such officers & soldiers as ____[?] will be permitted without molestation to leave the country, with or without their arms, in a reasonable time.
5th 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
Reconstruction 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 vote.
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 obedience.
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 Extract
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 Col 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 Florida.
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.