Center for Archival Collections

Reference Services | Manuscripts by Subject | Purchasing Microfilm | CAC Homepage

Johnson's Island, Ohio - US Military Prison Collection - MS 22

Introduction | Agency History | Scope and Content | Series Description | Inventory


The Johnson's Island, Ohio - U. S. Military Prison Collection was transferred from the Rare Books Department of the Bowling Green State University Library to the Center for Archival Collections during the summer of 1977. Information on prior ownership is not available.

The collection consists of six volumes of the camp sutler's financial ledgers, one volume of receipts of the prison's commanding officer and three autograph albums with signatures and inscriptions of the Confederate officers. The records date from April 1862 to May 1864. The register was compiled by Carl Wolfe, graduate student, Bowling Green State University and completed by Ann Bowers, Manuscript Curator, Center for Archival Collections, with additions by Marilyn Levinson in 1998.

Agency History

Johnson's Island was the location of a prisoner-of-war camp for Confederate soldiers during the Civil War. The island itself is one mile long and one and a half miles wide and is located at the mouth of Sandusky Bay near Sandusky, Ohio. Reasons for this site selection included a relatively wooded land, and proximity to Sandusky, Ohio (labor and supplies) which allowed for an early completion date.

The camp, thirteen barracks, was completed in February 1862 at a cost of $30,000. Twelve of the barracks were used as living quarters by the prisoners and one acted as a hospital.

William Pierson, lawyer and mayor of Sandusky, was selected as the first commanding officer of the camp and was given the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. He was replaced by Brigadier General H. D. Terry on January 14, 1864, who in turn was replaced by Charles W. Hill in May 1865.

The history of the camp can be divided into two periods. During the first period, lasting until December 1863, food and money were plentiful and the camp was not crowded. The second period, ending with the disbandment of the camp in August 1865, saw a great influx of prisoners with resulting crowded living conditions, scarcity of food, and the enactment and enforcement of stricter regulations.

The prisoners were allowed to earn money and/or have money sent to them. However, the money and a record of it was kept by the camp commander and transferred when necessary. The prisoners used this money to buy supplies from the camp sutler (seller of provisions) who also kept an account of all transactions.

The last prisoner left the camp in August 1865. The island now is a cemetery for the 201 soldiers who died there.

Scope and Content

The six volumes documenting the financial transactions of the prisoners with the camp sutler (April 1862-February 1864) offer information on the prisoners' names, the amounts of money each had, and the amounts spent. Little information on what specifically was purchased, however, can be found within these volumes. The account of the commanding officer, William S. Pierson, can be found in the back of the first three volumes (April-October 1862). In addition, in the back of volume three, a listing of cash received on accounts of men who had left was maintained (September-October 1862).

The second series consists of one receipt book of Lieutenant Colonel William S. Pierson. Only five pages have been used covering the time period, March-May 1864. The only information given is the total amount of money received by Pierson through the treasurer, Captain Truesdell.

The third series consists of autograph books. The first one belonged to Mollie M. Conway. Miss Conway sent packages of food and supplies to the soldiers, some of whom were friends of her brother James who had been killed in action. In gratitude, the soldiers sent her the autograph album with over 140 signatures and including additional information on the rank, organization and occasionally the home city of those signing. The second volume is a photocopy of an original not held by the Center, and the third, similar volume was donated to the collection in 1998 by Doug McKay of the former Lindale Historical Society, Lindale, Texas.

These records do not offer much description of camp life. However, they can be utilized to document names of soldiers at Johnson's Island, length of stay of the soldiers, and increases and decreases in the amounts of money received and spent. Although having historical value, these records may prove to be more useful for genealogists.

Series Description


March-May 1864
Arranged chronologically
Contains a record of amount of money received by Lieutenant Colonel William S. Pierson through the camp treasurer, Captain Truesdell, date, and Truesdell's signature.

April 1862-February 1864
Arranged by account name and chronologically within each account.
Contains name of soldier, dates of entries, credit amounts, debit amounts, occasionally name of person to or from whom money transferred. Each volume is indexed alphabetically.


January 1863-August 1864, December 1902, July 4, 1864, n.d.
No discernible arrangement.
Three different volumes. Includes name, rank, organization, hometown, date and location of capture of soldiers at Johnson's Island. Also contains some poems and letters.


Roll 1

  1. Sutler's Ledger, April-August 1862
  2. Sutler's Ledger, May-August 1862
  3. Sutler's Ledger, August 1862-February 1864
  4. Sutler's Ledger, August 1863-February 1864
  5. Sutler's Ledger, September 1863-February 1864, p. 331

Roll 2

  1. Sutler's Ledger, September 1863-February 1864, p. 332-end
  2. Sutler's Ledger, December 1863-February 1864
  3. Receipt Book, Lt. Col. William S. Pierson, March-May 1864
  4. Autograph Album, Mollie M. Conway, January 1863-August 1864, December 1902
    Online copy available through Ohio Memory

Manuscripts by Subject | Civil War Collections | NW Ohio in the Civil War