Archaeology Magazine Archive

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

Special Introductory Offer!
online features
Bulletin Board: In Their Own Words 1999

Re: Comments on the Johnson's Island Dig

Posted by David R. Bush on September 09, 1999 at 18:59:00:

In Reply to: Comments on the Johnson's Island Dig posted by Hank Moncure on September 09, 1999 at 02:16:23:

I wanted to quickly respond to Hank Moncure's comments posted on September 9th. I would agree that there are more than the 65 prisons where POWs were housed, but there are only 65 that are within the Official Records kept by the Union and Confederacy. The book, Portals to Hell, does present other sites that were used for short-term housing of prisoners, but the main ones were the ones referenced in both my article, and in the National Historic Landmark nomination form, whose historic context was prepared by Edwin C. Bearss. It's hard to argue with him and the Official Records.

Concerning the use of Johnson's Island as an Officer's prison, this was determined on April 12th or 13th (I can't remember the exact date at this time) of 1862, only a few days after the first prisoners arrived form Camp Chase. By mid-June of 1862, only officers were supposed to be at Johnson's Island. There were others that ended up there for short periods of time, but for the most part, it was just Confederate Officers. I don't think that this effects the attitudes that the POWs had about trying to maintain their southern lifestyle. (See Official Records, Ser.II, vol. 3, page 574)

The number of sinks associated with the prison is also of interest. Unfortunately, the reproduction of the Kern map in the article cut off the area behind Block 13, where a sink is depicted. This is the only map that shows a sink behind block 13. In fact, I am curious whether there is actually one there, or if it was just accidently added by Kern. The exploration of the blocks has been ongoing since 1990. I have explored sinks associated with Blocks 1, 6, and 8. In all, eight sinks have been investigated (although not all completely excavated). The Society for Historica Archaeology is going to be publishing a monograph on latrines, of which I have provided an article about the sinks at Johnson's Island. Although you have suggested that we explore more of the latrines, once the article is published, it will become apparent that we have been very concerned with developing a chronology of the sinks to study many issues related to POW treatment over time. This article has been "in press" for quite some time, with the original paper presented several years ago. It is difficult to get all the results of one's work "out" for public consumption quickly.

I suppose that the term unique in discussing the craft activity at Johnson's Island was confusing. What I have found to be unique is the lack of any other documented archaeological collection reflecting the craft industry at a prison site. I am aware that POWs at many prisons were carving various items, but we have at Johnson's Island the physical evidence for this activity in the form of waste pieces, unfinished (probably lost) pieces, and the tools used to make them. If there are other documented collections like this, I would certainly be interested in hearing about them.

As with any archaeological investigation, the excavations must proceed slowly, with specific research goals in mind. I have done this throughout the 10 years I have been exploring Johnson's Island. There are many areas that are of interest, and in time, many will be explored. With each new exploration, many more questions come to mind that would be worth investigating. It must also be remembered that Archaeology cannot publish all that I have accomplished at Johnson's Island. They were not willing to dedicate the next several issues to this task. Therefore, I have tried to put some of this information on our WEB site, and as time allows, I will continue to put as much into print and I can.

I want to thank you for your comments, and please feel free to continue to exchange thoughts with me.

Back to Board