On Sandusky Bay within Lake Erie lies Johnson's Island, a small body of land that is one mile across the bay from the Cedar Point amusement park. Johnson's Island was one of the many locations used by the Federal government to house Confederate prisoners of war. The 16.5 acre compound contained thirteen blocks, latrines, sutler’s stand, three wells, pest house, two large mess halls and more. The blocks were two stories high and approximately 130 by 24 feet. There were more than forty 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 winter of 1864-65.
In May 1864 men of the 171st Ohio Volunteer Infantry Regiment were stationed at Johnson's Island to serve as guards. The 171st was one of over forty Ohio regiments that were to serve for one hundred days, allowing other tenured Ohio regiments to support the various campaigns being launched that late spring.
Robert Stranahan was a member of the 171st. Enlisting as a first sergeant at the age of twenty-nine, he would leave his second wife Sarah and two children at home in Trumbull County. Sarah was with child when Robert made the decision to serve in the 171st. The following letter from Robert to Sarah is in apparent response to Robert's departure.
May 10th 1864
Mrs. Sarah Stranahan
Yours of the 8th I received tonight. I read it with mingled feelings of pleasure and of pain. I was glad to learn that no evil has befallen you and the children and sorry to learn that you are alone. Sarah, I fully sympathize with you under the circumstances in which you are placed and were I situated so I could mitigate your loneliness I would gladly do so. But this I cannot do only in so far as writing may serve that end. You no doubt feel that your cup of sadness is bitter. I do not question it. I know full well your feelings and tendencies. Think you Sarah that my affection for you is chilled? Could you enter into my feelings tonight and realize with me the loneliness which I have felt since I left home? I am sure you would not doubt my love of friends and home. Oh how I have prayed that both of us might be reconciled to the circumstances that surround us. Earnestly have I prayed that God would protect and defend us in our absence as he did when we were with each other. I doubt not that you have done the same.
Now Sarah, let me say a few things about the neighbors whom you say think I felt little grief on leaving home. It matters but little to me Sarah what some may say about my apparent indifference. But it does matter a great deal as to how we view their opinions on these things. You know Sarah that I have always told you that I looked more to duty than the favor of this or that person who cannot properly judge the motives that prompted me to take up arms in defense of my country. God knows I never would have been here had not I believed that in doing so I could acquit myself of all censure that would have followed my staying at home. You know Sarah as well as I that I have always cherished the profoundest regard for the country in which I live and the privilege and blessings which I enjoy. What would all that we have or could hope to have, be without a government, a country. And what is there so dear to us as to the protection of our lives, liberties and social and religious institutions. Are not these worthy the sacrifice of little ease and comfort. Think not Sarah that I am trying to apologize for my hasty departure from home. I need not offer any. You know I could not help it. The order to leave was imperative and I had to obey. Some may think that I might have hired a substitute as others have done. But that would not have suited my views of duty. Everyone should endeavor to perform his own duties. And if he is not in a condition to do so, then a question of substitution should be considered, but not without caution. By the way, I want to say a little about the question of substitutes. You are aware that George Taylor hired a substitute and had to pay $100 for the same. This substitute has failed to report and if he cannot be found, George will have to take his place in the ranks. I had a talk with the colonel the other day in which he remarked that if George’s substitute did not report, he would hold George responsible. It appears that the substituted not being mustered into the service and failing to report must be accounted for by the person employing him. You will see from this that the only way for these men to do, that don’t want to go, is to come with their men and wait while they are mustered in before paying the money. I did all I could for George but cannot say what the result will be. He may or he may not come according to the decision of those in authority. Do not tell the Taylors anything about this or it will only grieve them and that too perhaps unnecessarily. Now Sarah you wish to know what you had better do. I wish I knew what to do for you that would make you comfortable. You know that there is nothing within my power that I would not gladly do to render you happy. I am sorry to learn that Lucy left you so soon. And I am indeed pained to learn that you cannot get anyone to stay with you during my absence. I know not what to say. Sarah, think me not indifferent. I feel for you only as one can feel placed in my condition. I would suggest however that you try again and if you cannot get anyone go and see Aunt Jane and see if she will not stay with you until I come home. I would say here that I did not pay Mel for chopping. I presume you got the money that I sent by Boverage M. Geehan. If you should call on Samuel Davis and he has no money, go again. His account is $14 dollars. He told me he would pay it when called for. I want now to say a little about my duties and health. My duties are not arduous. I have not very hard labor to perform. Plenty to eat but tolerably rough. My health is good and I think by the time the one hundred days are up I shall be a better man in all respects. You speak of me going into the U.S. service. It is true Sarah that I and all of the boys here are U.S. Soldiers, but what does that imply? Simply this, that the general government pays clothes and sustains us for 100 days and no longer. At the expiration of that time we will be mustered out of service, paid off and honorably discharged. I do not think as some do that we are liable to go where hard fighting is to be done. The plain simple meaning of the law is that we are Ohio National Guards for 100 days and no longer. Now let me say in conclusion that I have no misgivings as to the designs of our government. Let men talk and do as they will. I intend to acquit myself nobly and honorably if possible. It may be possible that we may get home before our term of service ends. It is certain however that we will at the end of term. Now Sarah I have written a long if not tedious letter hoping that it may console you in the hour of trial and sacrifice. I shall say no more at present.
Again Sarah I implore an earnest interest in your sympathies and prayers. God bless and preserve you and the children until my return. Kiss Willie and Ida for me. I remain your affectionate and faithful husband. Write soon and give me all the news. Love to all.
The 171st would indeed see action at the Second Battle of Cynthiana during John H. Morgan's Last Kentucky Raid. Stranahan would be part of the 600 or so men captured near Keller's Bridge on June 11th, and subsequently paroled the next day.
The baby that Sarah was carrying would be born on Augusta 21st, 1864 and named Franklin Benjamin Stranahan, who would later become the founder of Fort Lauderdale, Florida.