(Orig. Published 6/2002)
Within Johnson’s Island, surrounded by mostly private residential property, lies the Confederate Stockade Cemetery. It is located near Marblehead Peninsula on Lake Erie near Sandusky. The entire island served as a prison camp for Civil War Confederate soldiers between 1862 and 1865.
This site cannot do justice to this island’s history and legacy. Much has been researched about the stockade that cannot, unfortunately, be covered here.
What can be told is that the stockade was comprised of about one dozen barracks, hastily built to house and contain the Union’s growing Confederate POW population. While the prison was designed to hold approximately 2,500 Confederate prisoners, it quickly became overcrowded. During the 40 months of operation, over 10,000 prisoners passed through here.
The North’s version of the prison’s history tends to downplay the living conditions and treatment of its prisoners. To be sure, the Confederate prisoners did create their own community of sorts, developing their own trade system, and had even established a theatre. However, life was particularly harsh for the soldiers. Credible stories were found of of mistreatment towards the soldiers during the latter years, and food and other resources grew increasingly scarce as the prison became more overpopulated. Furthermore, the barracks were built from materials that were not designed to withstand Lake Erie’s extreme climate changes–prisoners suffocated in the summers and froze in the winter. Many died from disease and illness.
It is said that 209 Confederate soldiers are buried in the cemetery. However, it is widely believed that the remains of the soldiers are not contained within this small spot of land designated as the “official” cemetery and are instead scattered around most of the island. The marble markers found at the cemetery are not original. The markers were carved in the early 1900’s as part of a preservation effort, based upon the only available death records–old wooden grave markers and journals and records kept by the prisoners themselves.
The most recent archaeological research (including infrared scans of the island) strongly suggest that more than 100 additional, unmarked graves exist throughout the island.
Not surprisingly, the cemetery has a reputation of being haunted. The spirits of uniformed Confederate soldiers are said to be seen wandering the island.
Below, the iron gate entrance, which faces Lake Erie.
This statue, erected by the Daughters of the Confederacy of the Cincinnati, Ohio Chapter, is also said to be haunted.
Named “The Lookout,” he stands watch over the remains of the soldiers.
It is said that he changes position at midnight.
Below are some close-ups of the inscriptions at the base of the statue.
More undeveloped land surrounding the Stockade Cemetery, overlooking Lake Erie. A glimpse of what the Confederate prisoners would have seen, peering through the gaps of the barracks’ walls.
In November 2003, I returned to the Island with Groovie from Ghost Roads of Ohio. Unlike the last time I visited the cemetery in June 2002, the cemetery was empty of any visitors except ourselves and a maintenance worker. The wind off the lake had a biting chill, and the late-afternoon autumn sun cast strange shadows across the graveyard, which can be seen in the new photos shown near the top of the page.
In the Summer of 2003, two new memorial markers were dedicated at the cemetery. The names of all known soldiers buried here are inscribed on one side of each marker. Below are close-ups of the markers, showing the sides containing historical information about the cemetery.
Below are some photos of two of the unmarked gravesites–containing strange red orbs. However, given the direction and angle of the sun, they are most likely caused by sun glare.
Apparently, I broke a cardinal rule when I did not ask permission from the Confederate ghosts before rudely snapping pictures. Less than an hour later, while traveling down the highway back home, we were to pay the ultimate price for such impudence.
For more information about Johnson’s Island history and cemetery preservation, be sure to check out the Memorial Project of the Johnson’s Island Committee and of the Ohio Division of the Unite Daughters of the Confederacy. This group committed countless hours painstakingly researching the gravesites for the new memorial and organizing the June 2003 Memorial Ceremony.