Thursday, November 01, 2018

Escape From Johnson's Island: John Reynolds Winston

Escape From Johnson's Island

By Mrs. Sallie Winston Morton, Ardmore, Oklahoma

In the November Veteran there was an article on "Famous War Prisons and Escapes," but there was no mention of the escape of prisoners from Johnson's Island, in Lake Erie, near Sandusky, Ohio, which was one of the most noted of such escape adventures.

I have in my possession a small book with the title, "An Escape from Johnson’s Island," which was written by my father, the late Col. John R. Winston, of the 45th North Carolina Regiment, who was a descendant of some of the builders of the nation, namely, Sir Edward Spottswood, first governor of Virginia, and Patrick Henry, of Revolutionary War fame.

Colonel Winston was captured at the battle of Gettysburg on July 3, 1863, and sent to Fort Johnson, where two thousand officers and three hundred privates were confined. This prison was inclosed by a wall fifteen feet high, and contained thirteen frame buildings, of which some were ceiled, but most were only weather boarded.

Many ineffectual attempts were made to escape from this cold, gloomy prison, which was repulsive to the sons of the fair Southland. The one successful effort was made January 1, 1864, by Colonel Winston, of North Carolina, Captain Davis and Captain Robinson, of Virginia.

This was accomplished by digging a tunnel with pocket knives from the prison cell through the "dead line" to the outer wall, which was scaled by means of a ladder made of bench legs joined with clothes lines. Here they were successful in evading both the upper and the lower line of sentinels.

With the thermometer at 30 degrees below zero, and the lake covered with ice, they crossed to Ottawa County, Ohio, a distance of one mile. With little more than $2 to defray the expenses of three men, they set forth on the perilous journey of three thousand miles, of which the most hazardous events was the crossing of the Detroit River. This necessitated a crawl of two miles over ice which was broken into large blocks, and air holes that could not be discerned because of the darkness and the newly fallen snow. After traveling one hundred and five miles in four days and nights, having eaten only two meals and three very light lunches, and slept but twelve of the ninety-six hours, they reached the Canadian border, where they were extended a hearty welcome. On their departure, the Canadians presented them with a purse containing $1,350 in gold. After a voyage down the St. Lawrence River and on the Atlantic ocean, they finally ran the blockade into Wilmington, N. C.

When these brave officers arrived at their homes, through loyalty to their cause they again offered their services at the battle front, where they received a warm welcome and congratulations from their comrades in arms.

Source: "Confederate Veteran," Vol. XXXII (January 1924)

His maternal grandmother is Prudence Morehead (1792-1860), grandaunt of the John Motley Morehead for whom is named the Morehead Planetarium, the Morehead Scholarship, etc. Needless to say, John Motley Morehead was a UNC graduate.

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