Johnson’s Island, a small Lake Erie island only 300 acres in size about 3 miles from the city of Sandusky, holds a dark secret that even many Ohioans do not know. This island is rich in history though most today think of it as a resort community. Getting to this island takes some local knowledge or a good map or updated GPS. You head down a short road, put $2 in the automated gate, cross the narrow access bridge, and you have arrived.
For the last several decades small, modest resort homes, mostly summer ones, have existed on the island. However, in recent years a development company purchased an old quarry, blasted open one end section that allowed access to the bay, and built multimillion-dollar homes. Now the yachts can park at their owners’ doorsteps. But that is not the secret.
After crossing the bridge, one of the first sites you come upon is a small Confederate cemetery. In 1862 the Union opened a Confederate prison camp here. The government leased 16.5 acres from Leonard B. Johnson for $500 a year. At one time 3,500 Confederate prisoners were housed there. The island was chosen because of the easy access by Union ships via the lake. Over 15,000 men passed through the prison until it closed in 1865. About 200 prisoners perished during interment, some buried in the cemetery mentioned earlier. This fatality number was relatively low for a prison that size. This historical information is not the true secret though it leads us to it.
So, what is the little known Johnson’s Island fact? It is the only Confederate or Union prison where a male soldier gave birth. What? Yes, evidently a female, disguised herself as a male, enlisted in the Confederate States Army, was later captured, and then interred on Johnson’s Island. Local lore is that a Union guard, discovering the ruse, fell in love and ended up impregnating her. Records are sparse as to what happened from there. They don't tell us who this person was or what happened to the child. I suspect there was quite a scandal over the event. But it makes for an interesting story of which few Ohioans are aware.