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Johnson's Island, a Confederate Civil War Pow Camp

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An island in Lake Erie with a Civil War POW camp and cemetery. and attempted rescue of the POWs.

Johnson Island ohio POW Camp

Johnson Island ohio POW Camp

Johnson Island Lake Erie Ohio

Johnson Island Lake Erie Ohio

Johnson Island, Ohio's Significant Civil War Site

A small island of 300 acres in Lake Erie near Sandusky, Ohio that holds a lot of history. The island was originally called Bull's Island when Epaphras (Erapeoditus) Bull (1779-1812) and his family moved from Connecticut in 1809. Due to the War of 18132 and Indian attacks, he moved his family to Cleveland for safety. After Epaphras died the family returned to the island and lived there until 1852, when they sold the island to Leonard Johnson (1807-1898). Johnson renamed the island Johnson's Island. Johnson died in 1898 and is buried in Oakland Cemetery, Sandusky, Ohio.

Leonard Johnson Marker

Leonard Johnson Marker

Johnson Island Confederate POWCamp

Captain William Hoffman noticed Johnson's Island and believed it remote enough to have a POW camp on the island. The U.S. Army agreed and leased forty acres from Johnson to build the camp. Twelve two-story barracks were built with a wood stockade fence surrounding them. Operated from 1862-1865 some 7000 prisoners were held or processed there for months. Johnson Island is listed as the only prison designated just for Confederate soldiers.

The Daring Escape Plan

In 1864, John Yates Bell(Beall), a Confederate sympathizer, devised a plan to rescue the POWs from the camp. He intended to use the small steamer, Philo Parsons, to rescue the men. Among the passengers were forty Confederate volunteers with guns hidden in a trunk. The ship docked at Kelly's Island when another ship, the Island Queen, also docked. Bell seized the Queen, and it headed to Sandusky Bay after he dropped the passengers and crew on Middle Bass Island. He then dropped anchor in Sandusky Bay, waiting for a signal from his spy, Charles Cole, on the USS Michigan.

Cole's mission was to drug the crew on Michigan, but he was discovered and taken into custody and held until after the war.

Meanwhile, Bell decided to go ahead with his plan, but his crew refused and mutined. Bell then sunk the Philo and took the Queen back to Canada. Bell was captured, tried, convicted, and sentenced to hang. However, President Lincoln refused to commute the sentence, and Bell was hanged at Governor's Island, New York, on 12/24/1875 for treason. He was buried in Zion Episcopal Cemetery, Charles Town, W. Virginia.

His last words were, "I protest against the execution of this sentence. It is murder, absolute murder. I die in the defense and service of my country." Those words are inscribed on his tombstone. He is referred to as a man to the "Lost Cause."


Steamer Philo Parsons

Steamer Philo Parsons

John Yates Bell

John Yates Bell

Confederate Cemetery, Johnson Island Ohio

The Confederate Cemetery was the burial place for 200 Confederal soldiers. Originally, a wooden cross with the name and rank was placed at the burial. Over the years the crosses were replaced with Georgia marble headstones. The original wire fence was also replaced with iron fencing. In 1904, the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) purchased a portion to erect a bronze statue of a Confederate soldier overlooking the bay.

Johnson Confederate Cemetery

Johnson Confederate Cemetery

Comfederate Cemetery Plaque

Comfederate Cemetery Plaque

Johnson Island After the War

From 1866-1894, the POW camp was plowed under to grow crops. During the early 1900s, quarrying limestone began with 300 works making $2: per day and the limestone heading to Cleveland, Lorain, and Conneaut, Ohio. Before long, investors created the Johnson Island Resort. Unfortunately, a fire caused severe damage, and, along with competition from the growing Cedar Park Amusement, the resort closed. A second developer in 1989 decided to create a subdivision for 110 building lots for homes. In 1964 a causeway was built connecting Marblehead to the island.

Johnson Island Resort

Johnson Island Resort

Comments

fran rooks (author) from Toledo, Ohio on August 09, 2021:

Joanne, you are too kind. Thanks for visiting.

Joanne Hayle from Wiltshire, U.K. on August 09, 2021:

Very interesting write, enjoyed as usual.:-)

fran rooks (author) from Toledo, Ohio on August 08, 2021:

Pamela, I too grew up and fished for walleye on Lake Erie, moved to Stuart, Fla, fished for snook and here I am back in twilight years in Toledo Oh. Thanks for your reading and comment. I so appreciate it.

fran rooks (author) from Toledo, Ohio on August 08, 2021:

I thank you for bringing this to my attention. You are correct, it was the family that returned. Hope you liked the article, even with my error.

John Hansen from Gondwana Land on August 07, 2021:

I found this very interesting Fran, more history that I knew nothing about. Can you just enlighten me on one thing..you say Epaphras Bull (1779-1812) .. “and his family moved from Connecticut in 1809. Due to the War of 18132 and Indian attacks, he moved his family to Cleveland for safety. They returned to the island and lived there until 1852.” If he died in 1812, how did he do that? Or did the family move back without him?

MG Singh emge from Singapore on August 07, 2021:

Reading this article was simply wonderful and added to my knowledge. Despite many visits to America, had never heard about this place. A great share thank you.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on August 07, 2021:

I grew up on the shores of Lake Erie, and I did not know most of this history, Fran. This is a very interesting, well-written article. I always enjoy reading about history, and this article is very good. Thanks for sharing this information, Fran.

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