Johnson island is a 300 acre island in Sandusky bay. Located just 3 miles from the shore of Sandusky Ohio, It was once completely separated from the mainland but is now connected by causeway built in 1990. A $2 fee is required to gain entry to the causeway.
In late 1861, Federal officials selected Johnson’s Island as the site for a prisoner of war camp to hold up to 2,500 captured Confederate officers. The U.S. government leased half the island from private owner Leonard B. Johnson for $500 a year, and for the duration of the war carefully controlled access to the island.
From April of 1862 until September of 1865, over 15,000 Confederates passed through Johnson’s Island military prison leaving behind an extensive historical and archaeological record. Many of these officers recorded in journals or diaries the day to day happenings, emotions, and conditions they were enduring. They also spent many hours writing letters, collecting autographs from prisoners, and sketching maps. These documents give vast insight into what prison life was like, as well as the personal conflicts and hardships encountered among families and friends during the Civil War. Current research suggests that close to 300 prisoners died on Johnson’s Island during the war due to ohio’s Harsh winters, disease and food shortages. Still the Johnson’s Island prison had one of the lowest mortality rates of any Civil War prison.
A 15-foot high wooden stockade surrounded the 16.5 acre Johnson’s Island Prison Compound contained 13 Blocks (12 as prisoner housing units and one as a hospital), latrines, sutler’s stand, 3 wells, pest house, 2 large mess halls (added in August, 1864) and more. The Blocks were two stories high and approximately 130 by 24 feet. There were more than 40 buildings outside the stockade (barns, stables, a lime kiln, forts, barracks for officers, a powder magazine, etc.) used by the 128th Ohio Volunteer Infantry to guard the prison. After the unraveling of a Confederate espionage ring which had been plotting the seizure of the Great Lakes warship USS Michigan and a mass breakout of prisoners, Forts Johnson and Hill were constructed over the winter of 1864–65 and were operational by March of 1865.
Among the prominent Confederate generals imprisoned on Johnson’s Island were Isaac R. Trimble and James J. Archer (both captured at the Battle of Gettysburg), William Beall, Thomas Benton Smith, Edward “Allegheny” Johnson and Missouri cavalryman M. Jeff Thompson. Lieutenant Christopher Columbus Nash, later the sheriff of Grant Parish, Louisiana, who directed the Colfax Riot in 1873, was also imprisoned at Johnson’s Island.
The Hoffman Battalion with other companies that formed the 128th Ohio Volunteer Infantry became the official guards of the prison under the charge of William S. Pierson, former mayor of Sandusky. Because of his cruelty to prisoners and his inability to handle problems and keep the prison in good order, he was replaced. On January 18, 1864 Brigadier General Harry D. Terry replaced Pierson. A few months later, on May 9, 1864, Colonel Charles W. Hill took command at Johnson’s Island, remaining as such until the end of the war.
Most of the buildings were auctioned off after the war. The others that fell into disrepair were demolished, Now, all that remains of the Johnson Island prison is a cemetery, a historical museum and a handful of archaeological dig sites maintained by Heidelberg University
Updates from the Heidelberg Archeological Dig
Much of the island is now private residences, Only the cemetery and museum are accessible to the public and traffic control is strictly enforced.
Johnson’s Island Museum
Johnson’s Island Museum / Information Center is part of Ohio Military Heritage Association
Ohio Veterans Home
I.F. Mack Bldg.
3416 Columbus Ave.
Sandusky, OH 44870
Hours: 1PM to 4PM on weekends and holidays from Memorial Day to October 1st
Johnson’s Island and the Johnson’s Island Museum can be easily reached from Ohio state route 2.To go to Johnson’s Island, exit at the SR 269 exit ramp, follow the ramp and bear to the right (south) onto SR 269. The first intersection will be Bayshore Road. Turn left (east) onto Bayshore and travel east 5.9 miles to Gaydos drive. (Before reaching Gaydos, be careful to remain on Bayshore Road as it bears right (east) while Hartshorn Rd. goes straight (north). This is marked with a blue circle on the map below.) Turn right (south) onto Gaydos and drive to the tollgate and causeway to the island. Once on the island, proceed straight after stopping at the four-way intersection. The Confederate cemetery is a short distance on the left (east) side. Please remember to bring $2.00 (payable by either dollars or quarters) to pay the toll to the island.
To go to the Johnson’s Island Museum (from Johnson’s Island / Marblehead area), take Ohio state route 2 east to Sandusky. Exit at US 250 (Cedar Point) and go north toward Sandusky 1.9 miles. The Ohio Veterans Home is on the left (west). Enter US 250 gate and proceed to the I.F. Mack Building (large building across from flag pole)..