Archaeology Magazine Archive

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For the past 20 years, archaeologist Dave Bush has been investigating Johnson's Island, a Civil War POW camp on western Lake Erie where more than 10,000 Confederate officers were held between 1862 and 1865. Excavations by Bush, a professor of anthropology and director of the Center for Historic and Military Archaeology at Heidelberg University in Tiffin, Ohio, have revealed a wealth of information about daily life at the camp.

In recent years, Bush and various teams of students and volunteers have unearthed the foundations of the prison hospital and latrines, and found evidence of the diseases from which the men suffered. They have also discovered the location of the prison's "dead line"--a 30-foot-wide fire zone near the prison wall where those who tried to escape would have been shot. (Some 300 internees never made it off the island.) In addition, Bush has worked tirelessly to amass an extensive amount of written materials, including letters, diaries, maps, drawings, and photographs, many from the prisoners' descendants.

ARCHAEOLOGY has followed Dave Bush's ground-breaking research and exciting finds at Johnson's Island over the past decade in a series of special reports in the magazine and online, including "Doing Time" (July/August 1999), "Tales From A Civil War Prison" (August 30, 1999), and the ongoing "Unlocking a Civil War Prison," an Interactive Dig regularly updated during field seasons. See for complete coverage of this important project, and visit the website of The Friends and Descendants of Johnson's Island Civil War Prison at

In August 2008, ARCHAEOLOGY's managing editor Eti Bonn-Muller toured the excavations and nearby Confederate cemetery with Bush, recording some rough footage of the site. Bear with us through the chirping of the cicadas, occasional low-flying small plane, and bumps along the wooded terrain on a sweltering hot afternoon, and experience Johnson's Island just like the archaeologists do.

The Cemetery
Begin your tour of Johnson's Island at the Confederate cemetery and learn the poignant tales told by the tombstones.

The POW Camp Site
Archaeologist Dave Bush explains the camp's history and the layout of its walls, buildings, and "deadline."

The Hospital and Latrines
Current excavations at Johnson's Island are focused on Block 6, the hospital, and its latrines.

The Hospital Excavations
Digging in the hospital proper with Dave Bush and volunteer assistants Sue Umbenhour and Dave Fadely

Fort Johnson
A look at one of the fortifications built after a Confederate
plot to free the prisoners was foiled in September 1864.