The thirty-year old boy Governor of Rhode Island had anticipated the war in advance of his entire fellow Civil War Governors who were all his senior. With his own personal fortune he raised and equipped a regiment of infantry along with a complete battery of artillery for the defense of the National Government. Before the Confederate Armed Forces had ever fired on Fort Sumter Governor William had offered both of these units for Federal Service to General Winfield Scott, the commanding general of all Federal forces. Much to the Governor Sprague's immediate surprise those in command instantly rejected his most generous offer.
On April 12, 1861 Federal Troops surrender Fort Sumter to Confederate authorities and the American Civil War began. Instantly Governor Sprague responded to this American tragedy by once again offering the State of Rhode Island's complete resources for the maintenance of the Union. When the Federal authorities accepted his offer of these units the Governor accompanied his State's troops to the National Capital to be taken into Federal service for the next ninety days.
The Rhode Island troops were the first to appear in Washington City and in their immediate lead rode the Boy Governor of Rhode Island on his white war horse. These men were instantly celebrities of the day and Governor William Sprague was offered the rank of Brigadier General of Volunteers by President Lincoln. The Governor seriously considered accepting the commission, but he felt personally that he could better serve the cause by returning to Rhode Island and raising additional troops for Federal Service.
It was here in Washington City that once again the paths of Governor William Sprague and Katherine Chase, the oldest daughter of Salmon P. Chase would meet. Sometime in the paste William and Kate had both met back in the City of Columbus, Ohio when Gov. William Sprague had attended a three day celebration which pertained to the dedication of the Perry monument in that Capital City.
The night of the Grand Ball young Governor Sprague became enthralled with Governor Chase's young and beautiful daughter. Kate was brilliant; she surpassed William in education and in social manners. William danced with Kate and took a great interest in Miss Chase until he heard of a rumor of her past indiscretions with a young well to do married man of Columbus. It seemed that Mr. Chase had forbid Kate to his society, yet she continued to see him without her father's consent. Mr. Chase returned home early one day to find the young man in his home and took his own carriage whip to the young man. Since then friends of Governor Sprague have informed him that the story was not completely true.
The Governor decided that while the Rhode Island troops where here in Washington City he would remain with them in Camp Sprague which was located outside of the city. Within a short amount of time tongues were busy talking about Miss Kate's sudden interest in the young Governor. Governor Sprague did return to Rhode Island to raise additional troops, but he always returned to Washington and the smiling face of Kate, every opportunity he had.
President Lincoln pressed General McDowell to attach the enemy in order to end this war. These first troops enlistment's were only for ninety days and their time would soon be running out. When Rhode Islander marched into the battle of First Bull Run, Governor Sprague was there to fight at their side. Gov. Sprague fought bravely and had a hose shout out from under him only to continue on with the fight. When the Union Army began to retreat the Governor attempted to organize a resistance to the Southern forces, but to no avail. The battle became a Union disaster for the Federal forces. The Northern army returned to Washington a great deal faster then most thought was possible.
This battle was the first and last battle that Governor Sprague would take part in as a fighting man. Once again he returned to Rhode Island to raise troops for his country's service. His trips to Washington City with his Rhode Island troops indeed changed his life forever. He now was a veteran of this bloody war. By the same token he had once again became reacquainted with Mr. Chase and his charming daughter. It would be this attraction to Kate Chase that would be likened to a moth being drawn to the flame.
The war had been going on now for nearly a year and Secretary Stanton of the War Department had asked Governor Sprague to personally attend General McClellan and report back to him directly on the general conduct of the war. It would be this new assignment in his career that would no be keeping Gov. Sprague from attending his principal interest, which now happens to be Miss Kate Chase or Birdy as he called her. The Governor had money, but he desired and longed for social acceptance. This he believed he would acquire in the society of Miss Kate Chase should he be able to persuade her to marry him and become his wife.
In the spring of 1862, President Lincoln had finally managed to persuade General McClellan to move the Army of the Potomac out of the City of Washington, D.C. to engage the enemy forces.
While other prominent women of Washington society were rolling bandages and visiting the wounded soldiers of the Union Army Miss Kate Chase was being courted by a number of her favorite beaus. Brigadier General James A. Garfield was a frequent companion of Miss Chase on her buggy rides out into the countryside of Washington. Mr. Hays, President Lincoln's personal secretary was also a frequent guest and visitor at Miss Kate's residence.
Young Governor William Sprague of Rhode Island was away investigating the performance of the Union Army, under the direction and approval of the secretary of War, Edwin Stanton. As the year 1862, was coming to a close Miss Chase would be forced to make some heart rendering decisions.
On New Year's Day while everyone was making personal decisions about their future, so was Miss Chase. At the tender age of sixteen, she had decided that her father would be President of the United States. Determined to dedicate her life to the enhancement of her father's political career, foolish ideas of love would have to be put aside if she was to accomplish her goal. The Chase's family ambition toward the white house was a poorly kept secret, everyone knew Secretary Chase's aspiration for the Presidency of the United States.
The more Miss Chase considered Governor Sprague, the more she was convinced he would be the vehicle that would convey her and her father to the presidency. The Rhode Island Governor drank too much, had a short temper, and had a bad reputation with the ladies, but she felt with her personal guidance and leadership she would be able to amend all these faults that existed within his character. She also realized that his education, refinement, and social contacts were far less than what they should have been for a man of his wealth. None the less she was determined to dedicate herself in the upcoming year of 1863, to the single purpose of securing the permanent attention of this rich young man.
Kate realized that William Sprague would be a prize worth the effort. By the same token, she was the Belle of Washington, D.C., even Mr. Lincoln had kissed her on her cheek to his regret. Her father right now was held in high esteem for the excellent job he had done managing the country's expenses during the war. Little did the High Society of Washington realize the Chase family itself was teetering on the verge of bankruptcy. This would be another problem that Governor Sprague would be able to stabilize when he became part of the family's inner -circles.
Miss Chase knew her father had counseled her in the past about the many different beaus she had in her attendance. Mr. Chase was concerned about the civility of society, while Kate in her own way was a born rebel. She remembered how her father had become infuriated with her over a simple ride into the countryside with a married man when she was sixteen years old. She was now in her twenties, she felt certain that her father would welcome William's attentions toward her, in fact she believed he would encourage him to escort her to wherever she wished to go within the City of Washington.
Kate was intelligent enough to know William was captivated by her many charms, she would use this personal weakness of his as her weapon to bring him closer to her. She also realized that William thirsted for the lime light and recognition of others. She could sense him basking in the glory of being in her company. After all there were few prominent men of the day that Kate had not had the opportunity to converse with, most concurred that she was an intellectual and quite astute in politics. Most individuals that were close to the Chase family believed that Kate was the better politician of the family, there was little doubt who would be the real power behind Mr. Chase's future political ventures.
Miss Kate was elated at how well her father accepted her now frequent companion. They had bonded well, it seemed Mr. Chase was very receptive to William's thoughts pertaining to the war and politics. This friendship between the two men would last up until the death of Mr. Chase.
Everyone in Washington's society began to notice Governor Sprague was Kate's constant companion at all of Washington's affairs. In a very short time tongues were wagging concerning the up coming announcement of their wedding. Everyone believed it was the perfect match of power and beauty, yet Kate knew there were many chasms between them that had to be breached if the marriage was to endure.
The courtship commenced in earnest when Gov. Sprague invited Mr. Chase and his lovely daughter to come and visit him and the city of Providence. Both Mr. Chase and his daughter loved the attention that was showered upon them by the local influential people of the community of Providence. A ceremony was held for Mr. Chase at the City Hotel in Providence especially in honor of Mr. Chase. You must remember that Mr. Chase's career as Treasurer of the United States was at its pinnacle. Mr. Chase had managed to do what most men considered being impossible; he financed the war and at the same time stabilized the value of the currency.
While the Chase family visited Providence they were introduced to some of the vast holdings of the House of Sprague. Needless to say, Miss Chase was very much impressed by Gov. Sprague's financial and political power which he possessed here in Rhode Island. Miss Chase and Fanny Sprague seemed to remove whatever barriers that could have arose between a mother-in-law and her future daughter-in-law. Kate felt certain that she could rule supreme here in Providence as well as she had back in Washington City.
The problem that arose between them in their relationship was not money or social conflict, but that of classing personalities. Young Gov. Sprague possessed a temper and was not accustomed to being questioned or interrogated when he made statement or gave a command. Mr., Chase himself off times had a difficult time controlling his own daughter's wishes and desires. No one could better realize than Mr. Chase that the prize Gov. Sprague was seeking out would indeed be an expensive one.
William owned a small boat, which he maintained at Providence. It was on one of these weekend visits that the words became heated between Miss Chase and William. Miss Chase became put out with William and decided to let him know about her anger in no uncertain terms. William continued to correspond with Miss Kate in the attempt to convince her that the both of them would be required to better manage their tempers in a more appropriate manner. At the same time William was writing Kate he would be asking her why she had the need or desire to be in the society of various young officers who visited her father's home. Finally William decided to take the reins of his problem into his hands by having a meeting with Mr. Chase, Miss Chase, and himself. It would be in Mr. Chase's home that all the logistics of his up coming marriage to Miss Kate would be arranged.
Gov. Sprague had often made the statement to many of his friend that he wouldn't reside under another man's roof. With this in mind, Gov. Sprague purchased the home that Mr. Chase had been renting for the sum of $28,000 dollars. Once the home was owned by Gov. Sprague, Mr. Chase and Gov. Sprague worked out their financial problems that pertained to the daily domestic operation of the home. Mr. Chase found his future son-in-law to be quite a generous fellow indeed. It was agreed that after the marriage and honeymoon the four of them would reside in the Washington residence while the Senate was in secession.
Mr. Chase and William always were on good terms. William even became fond of Kate's younger sister Janet Chase who was pretty, but seven years younger then his future wife. Society at that time did not permit children to interact in adult affairs or functions until they obtained the age of eighteen. Because of this fact Miss Janet Chase became the shadow sister of Kate Chase. In time Janet Chase became an illustrator and author of children's books and in later years wrote for the New York Sun. Although Kate attempted to ignore Miss Janet in her social life, that was not true of William Sprague. William would write and tell Kate that she should say hello for him to both her father and her sister during his absence from Washington.
Gov. Sprague was a strong believer in the policy of delegating his authority to others. Gen. Mc Dowel was personally responsible for the contracting and crafting of a Tiara, which included a string of pearl and a broach, which would all be snapped onto the Tiara. Originally the Tiara was supposed to cost the sum of $4,500. Until Kate finished making changes to the piece the cost had soared to $5,700. This Tiara was worn along with her wedding dress on that joyous occasion. This was during the times that most people were working for starvation wages of $2.00 a week.
As the wedding drew near it was becoming evident to everyone who knew the Chase and the Spragues that this wedding would be the high light of the year for the City of Washington. All the preparation for this wedding was taking endless hours of labor; not counting the expenses of the arrangements that were being made for this event. People would have to be housed since many of the guests lived out of town. Needless to say, Miss Kate insisted that all articles must be of the finest quality for her wedding day.
When the women of Washington observed Kate's wearing her engagement ring, the rumors had all been proven correct. On November 12, 1863 William Sprague of Rhode Island and Katherine Chase of Washington, D.C. signed their names in the ledger, showing their intent of marrying in the District of Columbia. At that time all one had to do was sign their intent to marry, the marriage itself would be performed by any local authorized person. ( After 1867 a law had been passed requiring all marriages, birth, and deaths had to be documented.)
All of Washington and the Nation were aglow with the news of the up coming wedding. Rumors were being spread that Senator Sprague had spent more than fifty thousand dollars for the jewelry his future wife would be wearing on her wedding day. Newspapers throughout the North were writing articles about the nation's richest senator marrying the Capitol's most beautiful belle. They were proclaiming that this wedding would be the most spectacular event in Washington during the Lincoln Administration.
On the day of the wedding Kate wore a wedding of white velvet. Her veil was made of point lace capped by a tiara of pearls and diamonds, a gift from her new husband. . Kate was tall and slender with a natural grace of movement that no French dance master would have been able to impart. She had a way of standing with her head tilted slightly upward, a faint almost disdainful smile upon her face, as if she were a titled English lady posing in a formal garden.
Sprague had a "boyish good look - brown wavy hair, stone colored eyes and a small silken mustache which did not add as many years to his appearance as he would have liked . . . he was a man of quick gestures, of sudden passions and rash deeds . . . a sluggish, withdrawn young man, drained of life and animation except for rare bursts of audacity, often kindled by alcohol. ("Women in our Past", Kiki Sotti)
Like all young brides, Kate wanted to take her new husband home to present him to her close friends back in Cincinnati. While she was there she also showed them her newly acquired jewelry and wardrobe. She later traveled to New York State to see her relations and friends before continuing on to see William's mother, Fanny, in Rhode Island. To Kate's surprise and dismay, the Sprague family was not in the good graces of the local prominent families. It seems that William had committed an indiscretion during his youth, which was never forgiven by them. Kate had just come from Washington, D.C. where she was the leading force of its society, here it seemed she was being shunned, this was her introduction to life as it was with the Sprague family in Rhode Island.
In 1864, a political pamphlet surfaced putting Mr. Lincoln in a bad light. The pamphlet appeared to have been developed and circulated with the knowledge and aid of Mrs. Sprague and her father. Within a short period of time Mr. Chase offered President Lincoln his resignation again for the fourth time. President Lincoln was a man of compassion, however he was tired of Mr. Chase's attempts to become President at his expense. This time the President accepted it, leaving Mr. Chase completely surprised. At this point Mr. Chase was a man without a job. His next immediate move would be to spend sometime with Kate and his son-in-law.
When Chief Justice Taney died, President Lincoln nominated Salmon Chase for Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Chase accepted graciously, the Senate of the United States approved his appointment without a debate. Thus, started the short career of Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase.
June 16, 1865 William Sprague V was welcomed into the Sprague family. Willie Sprague, as he was known, was the pride and joy of his Grandfather Salmon Chase. Senator Sprague and his family shared Mr. Chase's home when they were in Washington. This was an excellent arrangement for Mr. Chase it greatly reduced his expenses. It seemed that the young couple were having the normal problems of getting adjusted, but nothing had surfaced that gave Mr. Chase any major concern.
Salmon Chase and his son-in-law were still on good terms after his marriage. When Kate approached her father with a situation that she perceived to be a problem, her father would always councel her to be submissive to her husband. It seemed to Mr. Chase that William was quite generous with his wife, he couldn't conceive in his mind how there could be a problem between the two of them that would warrant his attention.
It was not long after the birth of Willie that Kate's attitude toward her marriage began to change again. William Sprague, had turned out to be a man with little initiative or imagination of his own within the Senate of the United States. Kate had always been surrounded by men of ideas, who had a compelling driving force within them, to see that their ideas came to a completion, Sprague was no such man. Finally, Sprague had started to complain to Kate about what he considered to be her excessive spending, this alienated her against him. Kate had managed her father's different homes, he had never rebuked her for her expensive tastes or of her management of his different households. Shortly after this Kate Sprague approached her father pleading that he accept the added responsibilities of her personal expenses until their marital difficulties could be resolved. It was shortly after this discussion that Kate informed Mr. Chase that she and her sister Nettie, were taking Willie, and would be traveling to Europe so Nettie could continue her studies in the Arts.
Needless to say, Mr. Sprague was not in accord with his wife's wishes. He explained to her that a wife belonged with her husband sharing his bed and board with him, not traveling around the globe without him. Regardless of Mr. Sprague's sentiments, Nettie, Willie, and Kate along with the necessary servants were preparing to travel to Europe. Kate kissed all good-by, boarded the ship for Europe on what would turn out to be the first of many trips there. Mr. Sprague bombarded Kate with letters telling her how much he missed her. He informed her that Nettie should be boarding at her school instead of Kate maintaining a home for her. Kate ignored her husband's wishes, she continued her stay in Europe regardless of his comments. Finally, William traveled to see Kate personally in a vain attempt to influence her to return to the States. Kate remained adamant about remaining with her sister so she could receive her education. It was while Kate and Nettie were in Europe that Mr. Chase suffered his first stroke. This was the mechanics that triggered her return to the States. The concern and care of her father were always her paramount concern.
Mr. Sprague had received a letter from his father-in-law informing him that he had heard from his daughters. It seemed that Mr. Chase didn't think too much was amiss, since he placed little importance on his daughters return, except for the fact that he would be able to see his grandson Willie again.
Washington, Dec. 7, 1867
My Dear Governor:
I returned Judge Edmund's letter. All I hear satisfied me that the public opinion is favorable and when vote is needed, it is sympathetic and receptive.
Next Monday I prepare to leave Washington for the pier and have asked Mr. Fine to accompany me. Perhaps we will. (He was more than helpful with me in the chair.) When I left him in Philadelphia. I want very much to see our little Willie.
My visit to Albany, Framington, Newark, and Philadelphia were very pleasant. I found friends easy there. Perhaps I made more.
I have a letter from Nettie, dated July 21. They are all well. Kate had printed a note under our letter for you.
Always affectionately yours
S. P. Chase
To Hon. W. Sprague:
(Thanks to the Cranston Historical Society, Cranston, Rhode Island. Sprague letter collection)
This letter didn't express the concern of a father who thought his daughter's marriage was in peril. Kate returned home, to resume her duties of a wife, mother, and the daughter of a man who needed her special care. In no time at all it seemed that Mr. Chase had started to regain his strength back again. William seemed to be behaving himself now that Kate had returned home to him. It was not long after that Kate informed her father and her husband that another child had been conceived. Mr. Chase seemed elated, he felt that children were the cement that held marriages together. William seemed indifferent to the up coming event, Kate imagined it was because he already had a son and heir.
Mr. Chase had returned to work, with the assumption that everything in the Sprague household was back to normal again. He had stopped supporting his daughter Kate, Nettie had found herself a young man by the name of Mr. Hoyt.
Mr. Chase understood he was some distance relation of Mr. Sprague's, he was supposed to have some businesses in New York. With Mr. Chase back in Washington and Kate in Narragansett the only solution for the distance between them was the postal service. It was during this time that they communicated on a regular basic. As Kate confinement neared, she decided to change her course in her live again. It was on October 23, 1869 that Kate gave birth to Ethel Sprague her first of three daughters.
Sprague had a small section of land in Narragansett that contained a thousand acres of land. When Kate had approached William about refurbishing it, his only restraint was that the original home had to remain where it stood. With this in mind Kate constructed a large mansion, absorbing the original home into the total concept of what she considered to be a summer cottage. This huge summer residence contained 63 rooms and took nearly six years to construct. A spiral staircase was installed which cost $50,000 dollars. Kate had it shipped back to the States while she was on one of her visits to Europe. It took two men two years to polish the marvel to her satisfaction. The entire home was filled with expensive treasures of art she had shipped home from Europe. This would be Kate's summer home for her and her family to enjoy during the heat of the summer.
Mr. Hacker has recently published a non-fiction book about Miss Chase and her family. It is available at Barnes and Noble.
Story of Kate Chase's Family