Ohio History Journal

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edited by

edited by




A Confederate Soldier's View of

Johnson's Island Prison




William Henry Asbury Speer of Yadkin County joined the Confederate Twenty-

Eighth North Carolina Volunteers as captain of its First Company when the regi-

ment was organized at Highpoint on September 21, 1861. After training and post

duty at Wilmington, Speer and the regiment moved to New Bern and then on to

Gordonsville and Rapidan Station, Virginia. Ordered to join "Stonewall" Jackson

in the Shenandoah Valley, the Twenty-Eighth moved north only to have its march

halted and reversed. At Hanover Court House, Virginia, Federal troops under

General Fitz-John Porter were engaged on May 27, 1862. Porter's troops won the

field, and Speer, along with 730 others, was taken prisoner.1

Speer's story, as told in the diary excerpts printed below, commences after his

capture, and with occasional deletions by the editor, the account continues through

his imprisonment at Johnson's Island Prison, Lake Erie, Ohio. This portion of the

diary concludes when news of release from the prison came to him in late August


Following his transfer from Johnson's Island on September 1, Speer rejoined

his regiment but apparently kept no written record of his activities until March of

the following year, 1863. Then he resumed his account in time to describe fighting

at the battle of Chancellorsville and again at Gettysburg. Until August 1863, Speer

kept a fragmented record; then he lapsed into an unexplained silence leaving the

rest of his story to be told by others--a story which includes his rise to the colo-

nelcy and command of the Twenty-Eighth and finally death on August 29, 1864,

as a result of wounds incurred at the battle on August 24 and 25 at Reams' Sta-

tion, Virginia.2




1. The diary of W. H. A. Speer, a portion of which is printed here, is now in the possession of

James M. Speer, Route 1, Booneville, North Carolina. The diary was brought to the attention of the

present editor by an article on the document and its author by Lil Thompson in the Winston-Salem

Journal and Sentinel May 6, 1962. A limited amount of information on Speer is also available in Walter

Clark, ed., Histories of the Several Regiments and Battalions from North Carolina in the Great War

1861-65 (Goldsboro, 1901), II. Speer's account is unusual in that he describes life in the prison during

the early period before September 1, 1862. His spelling and punctuation are printed as they appear in

the diary.

2. See Personal File of W. H. A. Speer, Record Group 109, National Archives. For an account of

the fighting at Reams' Station, see Clement A. Evans, ed., Confederate Military History (Atlanta, 1899),

IV, 270-272.


Mr. Murphy is assistant professor of history at Southern Illinois University.