Governor Sprague’s Arm Candy

15 11 2007

chasesprague2.jpgYesterday I received in the mail Kate Chase & William Sprague: Politics and Gender in a Civil War Marriage, by Peg A. Lamphier (2003).  In the summer of 1861 Sprague was Governor of Rhode Island, and as chief executive of the state he joined the 1st and 2nd RI infantry regiments in the field at Fist Bull Run. Sprague played a prominent role there, accompanying Barnard on the recon of the 19th, directing artillery and having a horse shot out from under him during the battle of the 21st.  He’s even depicted here in this Alfred Waud rendering of Burnside directing his troops (that’s Sprague on the white horse – click the thumbnail for a larger view):



But the most significant conquest for Sprague may just have been the winning of the hand of Kate, the daughter of Lincoln’s Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase.  Here’s a photo of her as a young girl, when she was better known to her dad’s poker buddies as Lolita: 

I’ll  have more to say about the book after I read it (it’s next on my list, as soon as I finish off this nearly unreadable biography of Slocum), but the long and short of it is that the marriage (the wedding was the social event of the season in 1863) did not canonchet.jpgend well.  Sprague was an unfaithful horn-dog from the get-go, and Kate apparently strayed with New York politico Roscoe Conkling, with whom she was caught red handed by a shotgun-toting Sprague at the 65 room family hacienda, Canonchet (at left via Rhode Island’s South County Museum).  Kate was granted a divorce in 1882, and died in relative obscurity and dire straits in Washington in 1899. Here’s a link to her New York Times obituary.  

Glancing through the book, I came across one of those damned threads again.  Kate’s divorce petition is included as Appendix A.  In it she includes a very long list of the individual women with whom Sprague had been unfaithful during the course of the marriage, beginning in its very first year.  One passage stands out:

…with one Fannie Adams, in March 1876, at Providence aforementioned, at the house of one Ann M. Ballou,  commonly called Maria Ballou, said house being a house of prostitution. 

ballou.jpgOf course, Major Sullivan Ballou of the 2nd RI (left) and his letter home on the eve of First Bull Run is one of the most popular stories of the battle, thanks in large part to Ken Burns.  As related here, Ballou was a cousin to Civil War general and later U. S. President James Garfield.  According to this site, by 1876 the Ballou family had been in Rhode Island for over 230 years, so I imagine there were Ballous aplenty in Providence.  Still, I have to wonder what was the relationship between the Martyred Major and Madame Maria.  I checked the index in Robin Young’s biography of Sullivan, but saw no reference to Ann or Maria.  We’ll see where this leads, if anywhere.  And just to get this back on the track of politician arm candy, I wonder if there is any link between Sullivan’s family and the Ballou (Cat) pictured below?  


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3 responses

15 11 2007


I apologize for this comment not relating to your post, but I didn’t see any other way on your site to get in touch with you. I have Innis Palmer’s report on the battle (#37) on digits if you’ll tell me where to send it to you.


6 12 2007
He Hates Thursday! Stay Away from Thursday! « Bull Runnings

[…] all in the reviews, and two of them are among my favorites (the three posts are The House of Meade, Governor Sprague’s Arm Candy and Why […]


27 09 2011
Canonicus « Bull Runnings

[…] was Canonchet, and his name would later grace the home of Rhode Island Governor William Sprague and his wife, Kate Chase. Before that Canonchet was the leader of the Naragansett during King Philip’s […]


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