Item #7505 U.S. Miliary Prison, Johnson’s Island Lake Erie, Ohio. . A Bergin, del, ohn.

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U.S. Miliary Prison, Johnson’s Island Lake Erie, Ohio.

[Johnson’s Island, Ohio, ca. 1864.]. Ink and brown wash on wove paper, 5” x 7.5” (sheet size). CONDITION: Good, light staining and a few spots of soiling, old stab holes etc. at top edge indicating removal from sketchbook or album.

A rare bird’s eye view drawing of Johnson’s Island Prison created by a Corporal in the Alabama 30th Infantry who was imprisoned after being captured at the Second Battle of Franklin in Tennessee in 1864.

This drawing shows the entirety of Johnson's Island Prison, situated in Lake Erie just off mainland Ohio. Depicted within the prison enclosure are thirteen numbered buildings that housed the prison population, one of which (#6) served as a camp hospital; adjacent to these buildings are latrines, mess halls, a promenade ground, and so forth. Surrounding the prison is an observation deck patrolled by armed guards. Outside the prison walls are two cannons and various buildings, including a hospital, sutler’s depot, a bakery, block houses, men’s quarters (which presumably housed the 128th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, who served as guards for most of the war), and other buildings. Two vessels are seen plying Lake Erie’s waters, and an American flag flies above the prison. The town of Sandusky, Ohio appears on the horizon to the left.

The drawing was created by Lieut. John A. Bergin who enlisted as a Corporal in Co. A of the Alabama 30th Infantry. It appears to have formerly been in an album compiled by a Confederate prisoner on Johnson’s Island. On 19 Dec. 1864, it was reported that Bergin was one of the Confederate prisoners taken at the Battle of Franklin. The Second Battle of Franklin took place on 30 Nov. 1864 in Franklin, Tennessee during the Franklin-Nashville Campaign. It was one of the worst disasters of the war for the Confederate Army. Another drawing by Bergin (also signed “J. A. Bergin”) appears in an autograph album belonging to Lt. James H. Daviess of Co. E of the 5th Kentucky Cavalry and depicts a memorial to the fallen Confederate General John Hunt Morgan (1825–1864).

Operating from April 1862 to September 1865, the Johnson’s Island prison was built on the island for the security provided by its isolated location and for its proximity to various important Ohio cities and lines of transportation. The prison housed some 3000 prisoners at a time, and saw an estimated total of 10,000 men, most of them officers, confined there during the war, some 300 dying while imprisoned. Conditions were better there than at most other rebel and Union military prisons. In 1864 the prison was the site of one of the most elaborately planned prison escape attempts of the war, spearheaded by rebel Captains Charles Cole and John Beall. Working in tandem with Cole, Beall and a group of Confederates were to seize the Philo Parsons, a steamship operating on Lake Erie and then seize the Michigan, the only Union gunboat on Lake Erie. The officers believed that once they were in control of the Michigan the Union guards at Johnson's Island would immediately surrender, enabling them to free the prisoners. While Beall managed to capture the Philo Parsons, the operation was foiled when Cole, who planned to drug Union officers aboard the Michigan during a dinner party, was arrested for spying on the same day that seventeen of Beall’s men staged a mutiny on the Philo Parsons, forcing Beall to abandon his plan.

REFERENCES: The Tennessee Genealogical Magazine, "Ansearchin'" News, Vol. 35, No. 4 Winter (Memphis, TN: The Tennessee Genealogical Society, 1988); Johnson's Island at ohiohistorycentral.org

Item #7505

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