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Bulletin Board: In Their Own Words 1999

Comments on the Johnson's Island Dig

Posted by Hank Moncure on September 09, 1999 at 02:16:23:

The article reports "...32 prison camps in the North , 33 in the South." About 150 locations are known to have been used as POW prisons during the war. How did the PI arrive at only 65?

Johnson's Island wasn't built to be an officer dedicated facility and originally housed prisoners from all military ranks and also political, civilian prisoners. What does this do to the Southern gentlemen/officer assumptions made in the article? See Official Records, Vol IV pages 206-7.

The J. T. Hogane map ( page 48 ) shows 13 blocks but only 12 associated sinks. Block 13 is located between Blocks 11 and 12. If the map is accurate wouldn't the sink associated with Block 12 be a prime site to investigate? It probably was used by some Block 13 personnel in addition to those housed in Block 12 and is located such that tunnels in two major directions would reach the outer walls of the prison. No other sink shares both these characteristics. Additionally, the comments of Richard Coolidge, Union Army medical inspector, to the effect that the sinks had to be moved and reopened so often that "... the ground north and south of the prison barracks for a distance of fifty feet on either side may now be considered as one continious sink." open up the possibility that sink deposits dating earlier than those looked at thus far may present a more complete picture of Johnson's Island. OR, Vol. VIII, p 330.

The carving of rings , brooches and other jewelry from whatever material was available ( bone, rubber, uniform buttons, shell, etc.) was hardly unique to Johnson's Island and was more a means to make money than a pastime. The completed items were sold or traded to the prison staff, visitors and to other prisoners. There are numerous references to these activities in the literature. The Maryland Historical Society has a fine contemporary water color depicting, among other activites at Point Lookout Prison, the attempts of a prisoner to sell such items to a Union officer and the Museum of the Confederacy has a fair sized collection of such items. The most commonly encountered term for these jewelry producing activities is "cottage industry".

May I also suggest a look at the sutlers location shown on Joseph Kern's map of 1863 which accompanied the article.

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