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Johnson's Island Civil War Military Prison Excavations

Location: Marblehead, Ohio, United States

June 30, 2014 to August 1, 2014

Application Deadline: 
Friday, June 20, 2014

Deadline Type: 
Contact for details

Program Type

Field school



Heidelberg University

Project Director:

David R. Bush, Ph.D., Heidelberg University

Project Description

Since the spring of 1989, Dr. Bush has been investigating the Johnson's Island Civil War Prison. This site, located on a small island in Sandusky Bay, Lake Erie (just north of Cedar Point) held over 10,000 Confederate officers captured at hundreds of battles during the Civil War. One of the unique aspects of this site is it only held officers. Past research has allowed us to specifically locate many of the special use areas of the prison. We have completed our investigations at present at Block 4, a general housing block and Block 6, the prison hospital. In the mid-1990s, preliminary investigations were conducted at Block 8, another general housing block.

During the Summer of 2014 we will be continuing our investigations of Block 8 of the Johnson’s Island Civil War Prison Compound.  Block 8 was a general housing block with a number of fairly notorious individuals incarcerated there.  One of the unique features of Block 8 was its use for theatrical performances of the “Rebellonians”.  Also in Block 8 was William Peel, one of the handful of prisoners that became expert in the production of hard rubber jewelry.  The summer’s search will include items related to these activities as well as general materials required by the PoWs for survival, in the status they were accustomed to.

We will continue working on Feature 124, a sink (latrine) associated with the early occupation of Block 8.  The southern half of the latrine was excavated in 2010, and the northern half was started in 2011.  The majority of the northern half of the latrine will be excavated.  We expect to continue to find items related to their maintaining their Southern lifestyle and also a large amount of animal remains.  The 1862 latrines have produced unusual amounts of beef bones in the past.

Finally, the research will continue in the laboratory with the field school conducting preliminary analyses of materials excavated.  There will be two nights of laboratory work each week.

We are offering a five week field school (six credit hours) for undergraduates in college as well as graduating high school seniors and incoming first year college students. Non-traditional and degree holding students wishing field experience are also welcome. This is an excellent opportunity to gain archaeological experience as well as learn about the American Civil War and the prison system. In addition to the field experience, there will be laboratory sessions at the archaeological laboratory at Heidelberg University. View the Interactive Dig section of the Archaeology magazine website for more information at


Period(s) of Occupation: American Civil War 1861-1865

Civil War archaeology, POW archaeology, historic archaeology, medical research

Project size: 
1-24 participants

Minimum Length of Stay for Volunteers: Five Weeks

Minimum age: 

Experience required: 

Room and Board Arrangements

Housing is available at Heidelberg University in a house near campus and is approximately $90/week. You will be living with the other field students enrolled in ANT 250/251. Food service is not included in the housing cost and is not available on campus during the summer. The Johnson's Island archaeological site is 45 minutes from campus and transportation is provided to the site.

Contact for details

Academic Credit

Name of institution offering credit: 
Heidelberg University
Number of credits offered 6
$2,850 (6 hrs academic credit)


Contact Information
Dr. David Bush
310 E. Market Street
Recommended Bibliography: 

David Bush, Doing Time-How Confederate POWs weathered captivity, in The Archaeology of War, Mark Rose ed, 2005.
David Bush, Interpreting the Latrines of the Johnson's Island Civil War Military Prison, Historical Archaeology, 34(1):62:78, 2000,
David R. Bush, I Fear I Shall Never Leave This Island:  Life in a Civil War Prison.  University Press of Florida, 2011
Charles Frohman, Rebels on Lake Erie, 1965, Columbus, Ohio-Ohio Historical Society