Topic ID #27951 - posted 3/28/2013 8:12 PM

Johnson's Island Civil War Prison Field School in Historic Archaeology


Johnson’s Island Civil War Prison Historic Archaeology Field School

June 17 to July 19, 2013



From April of 1862 until September of 1865, over 10,000 Confederates passed through Johnson’s Island Civil War Military Prison leaving behind an extensive historical and archaeological record. The 16.5 acre Johnson’s Island Prison Compound contained 13 Blocks (12 prisoner housing units and one as a hospital), latrines, Sutler stand, 3 wells, pest house, 2 large mess halls and more. There were more than 40 buildings outside the stockade (barns, stables, a lime kiln, forts, barracks for officers, a powder magazine, etc.) used by the 128th Ohio Volunteer Infantry to guard the prison. The two major fortifications (Forts Johnson and Hill) protecting Johnson's Island were constructed over the 1864/65 winter, and were operational by March of 1865. The prisoners on Johnson’s Island endured harsh winters, food and fuel shortages, disease, along with the mental anguish of uncertainty about their families and their own futures. Current research suggests that close to 250 prisoners died on Johnson’s Island during the war.


From April 1862 until the end of the war, Johnson's Island Civil War Military Prison functioned as the main Union depot for Confederate Officers.  In comparison to the thirty-one Union prisons, Johnson's Island is unique in its purpose (housing Confederate Officers), in its military garrison (recruited specifically for guard duties) and in its condition (as an archaeological site).

During the summer of 2013 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 and 2012.  About one-half of the latrine remains to 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 which is held Monday-Friday from 8:30 a.m to 3:30 p.m.  No previous experience is required. The program is designed for undergraduate college students, incoming first year college students/graduating high school seniors, and non-traditional adult, degree holding, or graduate students interested in gaining intensive field experience.  The field school can be taken for college credit (6 undergraduate credit hours) or it can be audited (no college credit will be earned), but registration must be for the full five weeks/full day session.  Enrollment in the program is limited to 12 and admission to the field school is based on the order in which applications are received and completed.

This is an excellent opportunity to gain archaeological experience as well as learn about the American Civil War and the prison system.  Participants in the field school will gain experience in basic excavation techniques, on-site photography, the recording of archaeological data, and identification and conservation of historic cultural materials.

Application Deadline: June 12, 2013. Limit of 12 students.

  • No experience necessary.
  • Enrollment must be for five weeks.
  • Can be taken for 6 academic credit hours or on a non-credit basis


Additional Reference:


Archaeology Magazine Johnson's Island Interactive Dig:  This page included a link to video tours of the site and other interesting documentation and articles.

Youtube Videos

Johnson’s Island web site:


You can enroll in the field school in 2 different ways:


For Academic Credit (6 hrs. credit):  $2700.00  (plus $170.00 lab fees) or


For No academic Credit (no credit hours earned)  $1350.00 (plus $170.00 lab fees)



Coursework: You will enroll in 2 courses that are taken at the same time.

ANT 250-TA Arch Field/Lab Methods (3 hrs)

ANT 251-TA Arch Field Experience (3 hrs)



Housing cost is $425.00 for the 5 week session. You will reside in a university owned house or apartment and will be living with the other field students enrolled in the field school courses.  Food Service is not included in the housing cost and is not available on campus during the summer.

Contact for more information:
Please contact Dr. David R. Bush, Director & Principle Investigator of the Johnson’s Island Civil War Prison site at to request the Summer Field School Booklet which contains more in-depth application and field school information.


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