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          23rd Pennsylvania

Johnson's Island Sketch

Johnson's Island Cemetery

Johnsons Island

Aaron Van Fleet Sketch of Escape Ladder
(Click to Enlarge)

23rd PA at Johnson's Island

January through May 1864

January 1864 (Washington D.C.)

While lying in the streets of Washington D.C. in January 1864 in the middle of a snow storm, the 23rd was ordered as a part of the Brigade that they would be serving at Johnson's Island in Sandusky Ohio as guards. It was rumored that rebel sympathizers were formng a plan in the west to cross over the frozen lake erie in the middle of the winter to sieze arsenals and deystroy bridges. Brigades were sent into that area to guard against it and guard rebel prisoners of war.

January 8th 1864

The 23rd left on the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad in non heated Cattle Cars in the Middle of the Winter. However the men enjoyed this duty of service because it was better than being on a battlefield whth shot and shel flying everywhere and they had had thier share of that without any time of rest other than Winter Camp. They would have comfortable quarters, plenty of rations, camp fires and passes to visit the nearby cities. For the first time since 1862, some of the men were glad to be in the Army again.

Jan-April 1864

The men however did realize that this tour would not last forever or maybe even long so they did thier best to enjoy it while they could. The Rebel prisoners were also happy to have fighting men guarding them knowing that soldiers would treat soldier better than Home Guards. As the 23rd entered the prison and the greek cross was spotted, cheers arose from the Rebels.On March 11th, a rebel prisoner, got dressed in a federal uniform and tried to escape the prison by passing the guards. One of the men in the 23rd found him and broght him back in. Others tried to escape by using a rope ladder, but a guard cracked him over the head before he could escape. Over 400 prisoners were exchanged by General Butler in the month of March.

May 9th 1864

On the morning of the 9th the 23rd was ordered along with the 82nd Pennsylvania from thier duty at Johnson's Island, back to the front, the Wilderness Campaign having begun. They left on the morning of the 10th on the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad and then down to Belle Plain Virginia, before moving on to Fredericksburg to guard a Wagon Train being sent to the front. From there it was back to the Penninsula where they would be enguaged at the bloodbath at Cold Harbor in June.

  • “Life of the 23rd Pennsylvania “Birney’s Zouaves” ,William J. Wray 1904, 1999,2004
  • Research and Studies of Frank P. Marrone Jr.
  • A good part of this information was given to me by the efforts of my friends Brandi and Karen Oswald. Their efforts at The Johnson's Island Historic Site are much appreciated.

    Brandi and Karen Oswald.


    The 23rd Pennsylvania had a few deaths due to diease during the Winter of 1864.


  • 3 Died

  • Birney's Zouaves


    23rd PA Monument

    David Bell Birney

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