Contributed by Ralph R. Metheny


Johnson’s Island is regarded by Civil War historians as the most significant Civil War site in Ohio. Located in Sandusky Bay immediately across from the City of Sandusky, it was the site of a prison for Confederate officers during the war.

In the forty months of its operation, more than ten thousand officers, including twenty-five generals. and a thousand enlisted personnel and civilians were incarcerated in the prison. More than 200 of them are buried in the federally-owned cemetery on the island. Approximately twenty others are buried in unmarked graves elsewhere on the island.

After the war, a number of former prisoners became United States Senators, Congressmen and federal district and circuit court judges, and a larger number became state legislators and state court judges. A young private who was imprisoned on the Island, Horace H. Lurton, began his legal training in a law school conducted in the prison and graduated from Vanderbilt Law School after the war. He was later appointed to the United States Supreme Court by President William Howard Taft.

The Union’s use of Johnson’s island to confine prisoners of war for the duration of hostilities marked an important, permanent change in the customs of warfare. Combatants in prior wars had exchanged prisoners at regular intervals during hostilities as a matter of custom and convenience, Prisoner exchanges in later wars typically were small-scale and occurred infrequently.

After the Civil war, the island was farmed, hosted a dance pavilion and amusement park for a number of years, and was quarried for limestone for a time around the turn of the century. In the 1960’s. lots around the island perimeter were sold for weekend recreational use, and somewhat later a causeway was built to connect the island to the Marblehead Peninsula.

Johnson’s Island is an important educational, scientific, and cultural resource. Which contributes to the local economies through enhancement of travel and tourism in the area.