Johnson's Island Banner


Johnson's Island protected by heavily armed fort

In the fall of 1861, Lt.Col. William Hoffman, Union army commissary-general of prisoners, chose Johnson's Island in Sandusky Bay, Lake Erie, as the site of a new prisoner-of-war camp for captured Confederate soldiers. Hoffman was able to lease the island for $500 a year with total control given to the government. Half of the 300 acre wooded island was cleared for the prison camp; the trees on the other half were left standing to supply the camp with fuel.Army style two-story barracks, each designed for about 180 men, were built, as were a hospital, wash house, and two mess halls, all surrounded by a high wooden fence topped by a walkway with guard posts at intervals. The compound, designed to hold 2,500 prisoners, was completed in February 1862 at a cost of $30,000. As Sandusky Bay freezes over in the winter, it was necessary to wait until the ice had broken to ferry over the first prisoners. The first 200 Confederate captives arrived on April 10, 1862. Supplies were plentiful, prisoners could buy food and articles from local sutlers, and the prison population was well below capacity. But as the war dragged on and the population increased beyond capacity, supplies became scarce and prison life grew harsh. At times the compound held well over 3,000 prisoners, mostly officers, and the men suffered mainly from shortages of food and clothing. They kept up their courage and morale by holding debates, organizing their own government, and giving French, music and dancing lessons.

At the end of the war there were about 3,000 Confederates in the prison, and it was not until September 5, 1865, that the last of them were transferred out.