There may be other cemeteries on the shores of Lake Erie but the saddest one has to be the Confederate prisoner of war cemetery on Johnson’s Island. I’ve been there a couple of times and every time I leave with a heavy heart when I look on the headstones of these men who died so far from their homes in the south.
Johnson’s Island Prison was created in 1861. It originally housed soldiers of all ranks but later it was decided that officers should be housed there. The location was chosen due to the distance from the North-South border, isolation of the island and ease of supply by boats on Lake Erie and trains into nearby Sandusky, Ohio. The officers fared better than soldiers at other Northern prisons. Their guards treated them with respect and some had the means to receive money and other provisions from their relatives. The biggest problem was boredom. The prisoners found many ways to entertain themselves and make time pass until they were exchanged and returned south. (See this interesting article Prisoner of War Depot – Overview.) Still, I have been there in winter and the winds off Lake Erie are cold and wicked. This in itself must have been a special kind of hell for Southerners. They were also treated worse after conditions at southern prisons (housing Union POW’s) such as Andersonville became known. After that their rations were cut and privileges limited. Mostly they died from diseases like typhoid fever and others mainly related to poor sanitation.
Despite the distance from their Southern homes, the Confederate soldiers buried on Johnson’s Island are not forgotten. In 1890, the citizens of Georgia raised funds to erect marble headstones at each grave regardless of the deceased’s home state. There is a large bronze monument of a soldier looking southward. I have seen flowers and other memorial makers on some graves. The Masonic members of Oliver H. Perry Lodge, No. 341, of Port Clinton, traditionally host a service there each Memorial Day.
Be sure to visit Johnson’s Island if you come to the North Coast this summer. It is a little known yet fascinating piece of Ohio history.
Visitor Info: Johnson’s Island Confederate Cemetery
Be sure to take along the map at this link. It is very easy to miss the turnoff onto the island. Only the cemetery is public, the rest of the island is private property, there is no visitor center or public restrooms. The museum/visitor center is in Sandusky, directions and hours are listed here also.
Another interesting web site with lots of photos is the Johnson’s Island Memorial Project of the Ohio Daughters of the Confederacy. Their goal is to make sure that these men are not forgotten.
Thanks go to my hubby for the use of his photos in this post.