from home, the island must have been a hellish place for those living under the
wary eye of the armed guards – ice-bound in winter, tauntingly beautiful yet inaccessible
in spring and summer. In time, those who could left. But others remain behind
Among rows of identical white marble headstones in a lonely cemetery
on tree-covered Johnson Island across from Sandusky, Ohio, one bears this inscription:
Lieut. Co. J
3rd Tex. Cav.
|The graveyard, accessible
today only by boat or toll bridge, is all that’s left of the Johnson Island Military
Prison, a Lake Erie facility that held an average of 2,500 Confederate prisoners
– all of them officers – throughout the Civil War. Opened in 1862 after the North
realized the war would not be quick or easy, the prison consisted of 13 two-story
wooden barracks surrounded by a high stockade.
During the war, between
them the North and the South operated more than 150 military camps, stockades,
pens (as in guarded human corrals) or prisons that held an estimated 193,750 captured
federals and 215,000 rebels. More than 30,000 Union soldiers and 26,000 Confederates
died in captivity.
of the Confederate POWs was Lt. Samuel Graham. He enlisted in the 3rd Texas
Cavalry at Linden, in Cass County,
on June 3, 1861. Like most young gallants who rushed to join the fight against
the Yankees, he must have been full of martial spirit.
mustered into Confederate service on June 13 in Dallas.
It included 1,094 officers and men, most of them, like Graham, from East
Texas. They were the first Texas outfit to leave
the state for the theater of war, moving through Indian Territory to Missouri
by summer’s end that year.
In the spring of 1862, the 3rd Texas, by then
under the command of Gen. Sterling Price, operated near Cornith, Miss. By the
late fall, having survived a bloody engagement on Sept. 19, Graham surely had
come to realize that war is neither easy nor romantic.
On December 21
that year, the young officer led his company into battle at Davis Mills, Miss.
By day’s end, 22 of his comrades were dead, 50 lay suffering from wounds and 20
were either missing or captured. Graham had been wounded and taken prisoner.
Where Graham spent the first seven-plus months of his captivity is not known,
but on Aug. 19, 1863 he arrived by boat at Johnson’s Island. According to the
prison’s “Auxiliary Register No. 3 Deaths,” he died “of wounds” that Sept. 29.
The record notes a leg had been amputated.
the war, the prison buildings were sold for scrap or moved to the mainland. And
the cemetery soon fell into neglect. When a promotional tour of farmers and newspapermen
visited the island in September 1889, they found the wooden grave markers badly
weathered or missing. The resulting negative publicity sparked a campaign to place
permanent markers over the 206 graves, an effort completed the following spring.
In 1910, the United Daughters of the Confederacy dedicated a heroic-sized
bronze statute of a Confederate sentry to figuratively stand guard over the lonely
rebel burying ground. Two years later, an iron picket fence went up around the
cemetery. The UDC had purchased the cemetery and maintained it until 1932, when
the organization conveyed it to the federal government. It is now a National Historic
of a pair of monuments erected at the cemetery in 2003 lists two other Texans
believed buried on Johnson Island – Daniel Graham and Lt. James R. Mauzy.
They don’t have tombstones, and so far, no details on their lives and deaths have
come to light. Graham’s name is preceeded on the granite slab by “Guer,” presumably
an abreviation for guerrilla, a distinction the prison record keepers made.
The other monument notes that ground-penetrating radar had located an additional
61 sets of unmarked remains both inside and outside the cemetery. That brought
the number of known burials to 267, of which 253 have been identified. But the
marker goes on to say that as many as 300 Confederates may lie on the island.
“This work was accomplished using the best available scientific methods and primary
resources at the time,” the words in stone continue. “The Johnson’s Island Committee
[of the UDC] leaves to future generations…yet unborn and to technology yet devised
to fully reconcile the information.”
During the war, with nothing but
time on their hands, the Confedrates isolated on the island occcupied themselves
with pasttimes ranging from making jewelry to writing poetry. The most prolific
versifier was Maj. George McKnight. His ouevre includes these powerful
if imperfect lines:
|No more bad snows…
Nor icy wings beat agains my prison cell…
Within this Northern hell.
more my ears will hear the cry of Southern men
Nor sense of sorrow meet my
Where [live] those far worse…
Than those already dead.
| © Mike Cox
"Texas Tales" June
17, 2010 column
The link below will take you to a well-researched, photo-rich
site which displays an aerial view of Johnson's Island and an image of the guardian
Confederate statue mentioned in Mr. Cox's text.
Books by Mike Cox - Order Now