Tuesday, March 20, 2012


Today while researching another topic, I ran into an amazing book at Google Books. The book is entitled CAMP, FIELD AND PRISON LIFE: CONTAINING SKETCHES OF SERVICE IN THE SOUTH, AND THE EXPERIENCE, INCIDENTS AND OBSERVATIONS CONNECTED WITH ALMOST TWO YEARS' IMPRISONMENT AT JOHNSON'S ISLAND, OHIO, WHERE 3,000 CONFEDERATE OFFICERS WERE CONFINED. This title is available full-text at Google Books. The author is W. A. Wash, who was a Captain in the 60th Tennessee Mounted Cavalry. An introduction to the book was provided by General L.M. Lewis, and a thorough medical history of the United States Military Prison at Johnson's Island, Lake Erie, by Col. I.G. Steedman, M.D. is included in the appendix of the book. The Southwestern Book and Publishing Company published CAMP, FIELD AND PRISON LIFE in St. Louis, Missouri in 1870.

CAMP, FIELD AND PRISON LIFE is also accessible at the Ebook and Texts Archive of the Library of Congress.

On page 84 Capt. Wash tells of taking a steamer from Sandusky to the prison camp at Johnson's Island. He was placed in a block with about other prisoners, and their meals consisted mostly of bread, beef or bacon, coffee, sugar, rice, and hominy. Sundays were rather a lonesome day, since there no specific military duties on that day. The men imprisoned at Johnson's Island had to wash their own clothes. Capt. Wash, along with several other prisoners, made jewelry out of gutta percha buttons. One summer afternoon the "Island Queen" took an excursion to Johnson's Island, and the ladies waved to the prisoners.

On July 10, 1863, Capt. Wash received a package from home. His treasures included some items of clothing, along with pictures of his mother, sister, and grandmother. When new prisoners arrived at Johnson's Island, they brought the latest news to the prisoners. Men died at the prison, and many suffered with illness. Sometimes the men played cards, or games of checker and chess. Several evenings a week during the summer months, prisoners were able to bathe out in the lake. Of course they were closely guarded. In the winter months, the mail was brought to the prison over the ice. Prisoners could see young people ice skating out on the frozen lake.

An evening of entertainment took place on July 22, 1864, at Johnson's Island. It was put on by "The Rebellonians."

Eventually Capt. Wash got transferred to a Southern prison, and he did indeed survive to see the end of the Civil War. In the 1880s, W. A. Wash moved to Goldendale, Oregon, where he was first associated with the Goldendale public schools, and later went into the newspaper business. In 1888, W.A. Wash became editor of the Polk County Itemizer. William A. Wash died in December of 1915, and he was buried in the Lincoln Memorial Park Cemetery in Multnomah County, Oregon.

Photo Credit: Walter Myers, Beaverton, Oregon

If you have time to read through the text of CAMP, FIELD AND PRISON LIFE, you will gain a great deal of insight into the daily life of a soldier in prison during the Civil War. Capt. William A. Wash went to live a very full life. He married and had a daughter. His writings about his war experiences laid the foundation for his future in education and publishing.I am grateful to Capt. Wash for his detailed recollections of a very challenging time in American history.


PalmsRV said...

Great find, Dorene!

Dorene from Ohio said...

Google Books never fails to amaze!!