Evidence relating to United States stations for rebel prisoners                    


Testimony taken at Washington, D. C., June 3, 1864

COMMISSIONERS PRESENT.—Mr. Wilkins, Dr. Wallace, Dr. Walden.

Surgeon CHAS. P. WILSON, examined: —

            I was Acting Assistant Surgeon, United States Army. I was stationed at Johnson’s Island, three miles from Sandusky, from the last week of October, 1863, to the last week of January, 1864. My duty was to attend to our men guarding the rebel prisoners, and also to attend at the Small-pox Hospital for rebel prisoners, and at the Post Hospital for our garrison; my position enabled me to see the general condition and the general treatment of the prisoners.

            There could not be a more healthy or pleasant place than this island. Kelly’s island, a popular place of resort for pleasure and health, is about six miles from this island, and no better for these objects.

            The buildings were good; in good order; they were new; say two years old; convenient and comfortable; they might have been better ventilated; the buildings were frame, and lined inside; they had rows of bunks, as in barracks, in three tiers—just the same as our men have in most of our barracks.

            The rebel prisoners all had blankets, either their own or furnished by the United States Government, and were generally furnished with clothing by the United States Government—pants, shoes, hats, blouses, and underclothing and stockings,—until a short time before I left, then these were furnished to those only who actually needed them.

            I have several times seen of an afternoon boxes carted in, and these articles distributed from the boxes among the prisoners, according to their wants.

            I was there in extremely cold weather, when the supplies were teamed on the ice from the main land to Johnson’s Island, a distance of three miles; the prisoners were provided against this severe weather by wood hauled every day for their use in stoves.

            I consider that the wood was sufficient for comfortable supply, except for, say two or possibly three days, when the teams were engaged in bringing r lumber and provisions for additional troops; during these two or three days the supply of wood was scant, and was the subject of complaint.

            No prisoners were frostbitten or came under medical treatment from cold and exposure, except some who attempted to escape. They all fared as well in this respect as our men do in barracks generally. The sick men all had ticks filled with straw as beds; the hospital building for the rebels was lined and plastered.

            There was abundant supply of good water from the lake by pipes and pumps; when the pipes froze they could go to the lake, under guard, and supply themselves, bringing it up in suitable vessels; they always had plenty of water to wash themselves and their clothes.

            The rations of the prisoners were the same as those furnished to our own soldiers according to regulations. The prisoners did not consume all their rations, for I know that there was a large prison fund formed from the savings.

            During the hours of the day the prisoners were allowed to be in the open air as much as they pleased; there was abundant room for them all to take as much exercise as they required for health; they played games in the open air.

            The surgeon in charge treated the sick rebels as he treated our sick; there was no difference at all, except when special articles of diet were sent to our men by their friends.

            Some four hundred and sixty rebel privates were sent to some other prison in November; most of them had been on Johnson’s Island for some months; when they left, taking them as a whole, their physical condition was excellent.

            You could not have found the same number of prisoners anywhere in better condition.


Surgeon l35th Regiment O. N. G.

Sworn and subscribed before me, at Washington, D. C., this 3d day of June, 1864.


Notary Public.

Depositions taken at Sandusky, Ohio

MAJOR T. WOODBRIDGE, M. D., Surgeon in charge, sworn and examined: —

            Q. What has been and is now your position in the army of the United States?

            A. I am Surgeon of the 128th Regiment O. V. I., and Surgeon in charge of the Depot for Prisoners of War on Johnson’s Island, near Sandusky, Ohio.

            Q. How long have you held this position?

            A. Since the establishment of the prison. I came to the island in February, 1862. The first prisoners came in April, 1862. I have had medical supervision of the prison from then until now.

            Q. What is your opinion of Johnson’s Island as to health and salubrity?

            A.        I believe Johnson’s Island to be as favorable to health as the climate of Newport or Saratoga in summer, and as that of Cincinnati or Dayton in winter. The latitude is about 41½° North, longitude 82° 42' West. Height of lake above tide-water five hundred and sixty-five feet. The island rests upon a bed of Devonian limestone, which rises gradually from the shore to the centre, terminating in a ridge of limestone rock, thus affording complete natural drain- age. The water used is principally that of the bay, which comes in fresh constantly from Lake Erie.

            Q. What diseases, if any, are peculiar to Johnston's Island or the neighboring islands in Lake Erie ?

            A. I know of no diseases peculiar to those islands or prevalent in them. Johnson’s Island is a small one, containing only about three hundred acres of land, and previous to the establishment of the prison, if I am correctly informed, was not inhabited by more than one family at a time; but the Peninsula, with Kelley's Island and the Put-in-Bay Islands, have been inhabited for between thirty and forty years. I have conversed frequently with some of the oldest citizens of the peninsula and the islands, but have never heard them speak of any liability to diseases, but such as is common to other parts of Ohio.

            Q. Is there any truth in the assertion made by rebel authorities that residence on the island for a few months produces in a great number of prisoners dangerous and fatal pulmonary disorders ?

            A. Not the slightest.

            Q. What has been the rate of mortality among the prisoners ?

            A. In 1862—from April to December inclusive—the number of deaths was thirty-seven. During the year 1863 measles and smallpox were brought into the prison by prisoners sent from Alton and other prisons, and many wounded at the battles of Gettysburg, augmenting our mortality list above what it would otherwise have reached. The number of deaths for 1863 was ninety-seven. This makes, from the time of the first arrival of prisoners in April, 1862, to January 1st, 1864, (twenty-one months,) a mortality list of one hundred and thirty-four, out of an aggregate of six thousand four hundred and ten, received into the prison in that tune. As there were exchanges and removals of prisoners, the number in prison never exceeded twenty-seven hundred at any one time.(1) Many of the prisoners came here with health impaired, by bad diet, exposure, and often by wounds received in battle. The bill of mortality owes little to the climate of the post, when we consider that men in prison, away from home and friends, are weighed down by anxieties and despondency, thus making the treatment of disease more difficult.

            Q. Please state the number of prisoners now at the post ?

            A. About two thousand three hundred and six.(2)

            Q. Please state the number of deaths daring the past two months.

            A. In the month of May there were five deaths; in the month of June only one.

            Q. What accommodations are provided for the care of the sick ?

            A. The hospital building is one hundred and twenty-six by thirty feet, with a transverse hall six and a half feet wide in the centre. There are four wards, each forty- eight by thirty feet. There are eighty beds in all, giving to each patient, when the wards are full, seven hundred and twenty cubic feet of atmospheric air. The dispensary is furnished with all the medicines and stimulants furnished to hospitals for our own soldiers, and more than double the quantity is used by prisoners than by the same number of our troops. I have always had the assistance of competent Confederate surgeons, who cheerfully aid by giving their time to this duty. When there are no commissioned surgeons in prison, there are surgeons holding commissions in the line who do this duty. The cooking for the hospital is done by the most experienced and skilful cooks we can find in the prison.

            In addition to rations, the sick are furnished with flour, potatoes, corn-meal, milk, butter, eggs, chickens, tea, &c. &c. The : bedding is amply sufficient to make each patient comfortable. A pest-house is built outside the prison, to which all cases of smallpox, measles, or other contagions, are removed on first development


Surgeon 128th O. V. I.

Subscribed in my presence and sworn to before me at Sandusky, Ohio, this 5th day of July, 1864.


         Notary Public in and for Erie County, Ohio.

(1)The average number of prisoners for the entire of the year 1863 was eleven hundred and fifteen.


            Q. What position do you now hold at Depot Prisoners of War,?

            A. I act as chief medical officer of United States forces and military prison.

            Q. How long have you held that position?

            A. Since the 17th of May, 1864.

            Q. What is your opinion of the general healthfulness and salubrity of Johnson’s Island?

            A.         The general condition of the troops and prisoners of war at this post has been unusually good and hea1thy. The hospital in the prison, during the past two months, scarcely ever had more than thirty inmates among an aggregate number of two thousand one hundred prisoners of war. The prevailing diseases, during this time, were diarrhœa, acute and chronic; a few cases of dysentery, and a small number of intermittent fever. I consider the island as healthy as any locality I have ever visited.

            Q.        Have you known any undue tendency to pulmonary disorders on this or the adjoining islands, or any part of the surrounding country?

            A.         I have not, at least not during the time that I have been stationed here. In the early part of the spring there were some few cases of pneumonia and bronchitis, but not any more so than would be expected even in a climate further south than this.

            Q.        What proportion of pulmonary complaints furnished in your hospital reports?

            A.         For the past six months the ratio has been as follows:

  Sick Treated Pulmonary Diseases
January, . . .


February, ...             66               5
March, . . .             46               7
April              91               1
May, . . .             62               2
June, . . .             80               5
Total,. . .           409             30

            Q.        What is the appearance of the prisoners generally at this time?

            A.         Their appearance is very good. The prisoners confined at this depot are all rebel officers, but have very little pride to keep themselves or their quarters clean.

            Q.        Do the prisoners seem to gain or decline in health after their arrival here?

            A.         As a general thing their health improves. Most of the prisoners are robust and in good physical condition.

            HENRY EVERTMAN,

            Surgeon U. S. Vols., Chief Medical Officer.

Subscribed in my presence and sworn to before me at Sandusky, Ohio, this 6th day of July, 1864.

[SEAL.]           HENRY C. BUSH,

Notary Public in and for Erie County, Ohio.

Deposition taken at Kelley's Island


            Q.        How long have you resided on Kelley’s Island?

            A.        Since the fall of 1838, with the exception of one year, from the fall of 1844 to the fall of 1845. Have been acquainted on the Island since 1835.

            Q.        What means have you of furnishing a statement of the character of the climate and sanitary condition of Kelley’s Island, and the neighboring islands, and the surrounding country?

            A.        I have been in the habit, during the entire period of my residence on the island, of noting extremes of temperature, and such casual phenomena as would, in my opinion, have any bearing on the general health of the place; and for more than five years past have made three records daily of everything connected with the changes of the weather, in the manner prescribed by, and under the direction of, the Smithsonian Institution.

            Q.        Please state the latitude, longitude, and height above tide-water, of Kelley’s Island; its population, and the general character of the island for salubrity.

            A.        My place of observation is in latitude 41° 35’ 44” N., longitude 82° 42’ 32” W. The level of Lake Erie is 565 feet above tide-water, and the island may in some places rise fifty or sixty feet above the level of the lake; but I think the mean height of the island would not vary much from twenty-five feet above the level of the lake. The population, in April last, was six hundred and fifty-one. As to the salubrity of the climate, the matter will be best determined by the statistics given in answer to the next question.

            Q.        What has been the percentage of mortality, annually, on your island?

            A.        In answer to this question I give an abstract from the records of the “Cemetery Association.” This association was organized in May, 1853, since

which time the whole number of interments has been 43
From this deduct, lost from vessels and washed ashore   4
Died in Nashville, from w’ds in battle,   1
Whole number of interments in 11 years, 38
To this add, died here and taken else where for interment   5
Whole number of deaths in 11 years, 43
From diseases reported as follows; —  
Killed by premature blast 1, drowned 2,   3
Old age 3, intemperance 1, dropsy 1,   5
Still-born and infants but a few days old,   8
Dysentery and summer complaint,   9
Inflammation of bowels,   3
Diseases affecting respiratory organs,    5
Throat affection, age 76, age 50, .   2
Fevers (one contracted in army hospital),   3
Childbirth 1, congestion of brain 1,   2
Fits 1, not specified 2    3

            The average population of the island for  this period of eleven years has been, as appears by the returns of the township assessor, 428, which would give an annual mortality of 3.9; but if we deduct casualties 3,  still-born and infants, which, although born  alive, had not vitality enough fairly to commence the journey of life, 8; and one from  disease contracted in hospital in Nashville, 1,  it will reduce the number of deaths properly chargeable to disease and old age to thirty-one, or an annual mortality of 2.82 in a  population of 428, This would be an annual  mortality from all causes of one per cent.,  and from disease, including old age, an annual mortality of less than seventy-three-hundredths of one per cent. (0.724)  By  comparing these results with the tables of  mortality in different sections of the country, the salubrity of our climate and the immunity from the ordinary diseases of the  country enjoyed by the inhabitants of this island as compared with other localities, may be easily deduced.

            Q. What is the distance of Kelley's from Johnson's Island, and is there any difference in the physical or sanitary peculiarities of the two islands?

            A. Johnson's Island is about seven miles nearly due south from Kelley's Island, and I am not aware of any natural causes which should make any difference in the salubrity of climate or sanitary condition of the two localities, unless the difference in the water between Sandusky Bay and the open lake (the latter being considered rather more free from impurities) might be considered a difference, so far as it is used for culinary purposes or as a beverage.

            Q. Is there any undue tendency to pulmonary disorders among the inhabitants of  these islands?         '

            A. By reference to the answer to a preceding question, it will be seen that the  whole number of deaths from diseases affecting the respiratory organs in a period of  eleven years, and in a population averaging  four hundred and twenty-eight, was but five,  and of this number one was a transient person; leaving but four cases in eleven years  among those who could be properly called  residents.

            Q. Has Johnson's Island ever had a bad  repute for unhealthiness ?

            A. I have never heard Johnson's Island called unhealthy.

            Q. Have you ever known any very fatal diseases among the inhabitants of Lake Erie?

            A. The Asiatic cholera has passed through the lake region as an epidemic four times, I think, since it first made its appearance on this continent in 1832. I am not aware of any other very fatal diseases having prevailed in the lake region since my first acquaintance with it in 1830.


Erie County,

Before me, the subscriber, a Notary Public in and for the County of Erie and State of Ohio, personally came G. C. Huntington, who, being duly sworn by me according to law, deposes and says that the statements above made are compiled from official and other reliable data, and that they are true according to his knowledge and belief.


Subscribed and sworn to before me,

                July 4th, A. D. 1864.

                            [SEAL.]        A. S KELLEY,

                                          Notary Public.