Johnson's Island Confederate Stockade Cemetery and Prison Camp

Johnson's Island Causeway
Marblehead , OH 43440

330-335-3069   |
open daily from sunrise to sunset
Free, although a small toll is charged to drive across the causeway.

The Civil War on Lake Erie

Johnson’s Island was a Union prison for officers of the Confederate Army during the Civil War. Only the Confederate Stockade Cemetery remains and allows visitors to walk through to experience its history.

Johnson’s Island is 284 acres of forested land off the Marblehead Peninsula on Lake Erie. Originally part of the Connecticut Western Reserve, it was named Bull’s Island after Epraproditus Bull who acquired the land after the Revolutionary War. Leonard B. Johnson purchased the land in 1852, renaming it Johnson’s Island. During the Civil War, Union Army officials searched for a Lake Erie island on which to build a prison camp for Confederate Soldiers. Johnson’s Island was chosen because of its proximity to shipping ports and railroads in Sandusky and its relative seclusion from the mainland. Construction began in late 1861 and by April 1862, the first Confederate prisoners were being transferred to the island from Camp Chase in Columbus. After its opening, it was decided the prison would hold captured officers because the island offered more security. The prison’s location did not stop soldiers from attempting to escape. During the frigid winters on the island, Lake Erie would freeze over, and brave men risked the journey across the ice on foot. About a dozen men successfully escaped this way during the prison’s operation, while some tried to dig tunnels out of the camp. One of the most elaborate escape attempts was a plan to liberate prisoners from Johnson’s Island in 1864. Two Confederate officers attempted to free the soldiers imprisoned on the island, and travel together through Ohio causing chaos for the Union. The conspirators’ efforts proved unsuccessful. In response to the attempt, the Union Army began refortifying the island, and constructed two additional forts, Fort Johnson and Fort Hill. By 1865, the Johnson's Island prison held over 10,000 prisoners, and was the northernmost site of the Civil War. Johnson’s Island was known for its relatively humane and decent treatment of Confederate prisoners due to the high societal status of the officers. The only visible remnant of the prison is the Confederate Stockade Cemetery, which is the resting place for over 250 confederate soldiers.

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Notes for Travelers

Johnson’s Island is a National Historic Landmark, and only accessible from the Marblehead Peninsula via the Johnson’s Island Causeway, which requires a toll of $2, payable in cash only. Johnson’s Island is a private residential area; the only area open to the public is the Confederate cemetery. Public restrooms are not available on the island, and traffic regulations are strictly enforced.

Additional Resources

Battle Cry for Freedom: The Civil War Era, James McPherson.

Captives in Gray: The Civil War Prisons of the Union, Roger Pickenpaugh.