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Fort Mackinac from 1815 to the Civil War

Fort Mackinac (

After the War of 1812, the military significance of Fort Mackinac slowly declined. As it was no longer needed to defend against British forces in Canada, it was used as a troop reserve and an important fur trading post. The fort was also used as a staging area for exploration of northern Michigan. The mysteries of the process of digestion were unlocked during this time at Fort Mackinac where a doctor analyzed a man living with a hole in his stomach from a gunshot wound. The last major event that happened at Fort Mackinac was during the Civil War where three Confederate officers were held prisoner.

After the War of 1812

Before the Treaty of Ghent was signed, Fort Mackinac was occupied by British Troops (see that story here). Eight months prior to the treaty being signed, the troops stationed there had completed plans and made arrangements to evacuate the fort. Colonel Robert McDouall, who was the commander of the British troops, waited, though, until the American fleet of four ships were in sight to evacuate the fort. He did this because he was very anxious that no Indian disorders or mass killings of the inhabitants occur. Within 30 minutes of landing on Mackinac Island, the American forces had taken over the fort. The new American officer who took command of Fort Mackinac, Colonel Anthony Butler, requested that he finish building temporary barracks for his men. According to the Commander of the Forces on this Head, “the Fort and Island of Michilimackinac delivered over to any officer of the American Government appointed to receive charge thereof; you will at the same time explain the causes which make it impossible for you to evacuate Mackinac until cover has been prepared for the garrison and Stores” [1].  Col. McDouall wrote to Col. Butler of his understanding of these instructions and his request for Butler to arrive in a timely manner as McDouall evacuated the island: “No one can be more anxious than myself, that they should as speedily as possible be carried into execution. I beg leave to recommend, that the departure of your garrison should if possible be so timed, as to enable them to land on the day fixed for the surrender of the Island.” [1]. One of the other officers who accompanied the detachment, Captain Benjamin Pierce, brother of Franklin Pierce, who later became president of the United States, was married at the fort to a French-Chippewa girl living on the island. The wedding was said to be a notable one.

The Civil War

For most of the Civil War, the fort remained ungarrisoned. After Captain Henry Pratt’s company of the 2nd Artillery left in 1861, the fort was nearly abandoned. Ordnance Sergeant William Marshall stayed behind as the fort’s only caretaker. Roughly a year later, Union forces had recaptured much of Tennessee from the Confederates. Future president of the United States Andrew Johnson was instated as military governor of the state. With this title, he placed Josephus Conn Guild, George Washington Barrow, and William Giles Harding under arrest and shipped them up north and exiled them to Fort Mackinac. Guild was arrested on April 15, 1862 for treason, Barrows was arrested some time before November 6, 1861 because he was one of the committee who made an agreement with the Confederate government to enter into a military league, and, even as late as 1912, the reason Harding was arrested had not yet been discovered [9]. Adjutant-General L. Thomas wrote in a letter to Colonel C. A. Waite, “I have visited Fort Mackinac and made arrangements for the reception and safe-keeping of some fourteen or fifteen state prisoners of war” [2]. It seems though that only these three prisoners were sent to Fort Mackinac.

Prior to being arrested, William Harding had been a “prominent horse breeder and master of the 3,500-acre Belle Meade plantation, had been a general in the state militia before the war” [10]. Governor of Tennessee Isham G. Harris appointed Harding to the military and financial board. There, he had contributed a substantial amount to arming the Confederate soldiers. The Military and Financial Board of Tennessee spent a total of five million dollars arming and equipping Confederate troops.

Washington Barrows had been a leading advocate of secession. He had represented the State of Tennessee in negotiations with the Confederacy. “In April 1861 Barrow voted for the secret declaration of Tennessee’s alliance with the Southern states and became a signatory of the document” [12]. That document was later ratified in June of 1861. He trained and equipped Company C of the Eleventh Tennesse Calvary that later became known as “Barrow Guards.” He continued to serve in the Confederate state Senate until Tennessee was eventually defeated by the Union Army in February of 1862.

Josephus Conn Guild was a Jacksonian Democrat. He won elections to the State House of Representatives in 1833 and 1835. Guild had actually opposed the forcible removal of the Cherokees from the state. In 1844, he was a Democratic presidential elector on the ticket of James K. Polk and George Dallas and a second time in 1852 on the ticket of Franklin Pierce and William R. King. For most of his time as a politician, Guild was committed to the preservation of the Union, but later declared for the South in 1861. “He embraced armed resistance as the only option left to force the central government into negotiating the issues that divided the country” [13].

Fort Mackinac as a Prison

Seeing that Fort Mackinac was virtually ungarrisoned, Captain Grover Wormer was given orders to raise an independent company in Detroit to guard the three prisoners that were to be sent to Fort Mackinac. The unit had just under 100 men. The name of Wormer’s unit was the “Stanton Guard.” Colonel Carlos A. Waite, Wormer’s commanding officer, wrote to Wormer that, “In addition to the ordinary duties of commanding officer of Fort Mackinac you are charged with the duty of guarding and safe-keeping Washington Barrow, William G. Harding and Joseph C Guild, citizens of Tennessee, state prisoners of war, now under your control, and it is enjoined upon you to adopt all such measures as may be necessary to retain these persons in your custody” [3].

Since Fort Mackinac was not originally designed as a prison, it was not ready to accommodate the prisoners. Therefore, the prisoners were placed under guard in the Mission House until a place in the fort could be prepared. “For six days after their arrival, the prisoners were allowed to remain at the Mission House, under a guard, while quarters were being prepared in the Fort” [5: 156]. Three officers’ quarters were arranged for them. Guild occupied the east end, Barrows the middle, and Harding occupied the west end. Captain Wormer gained reinforcements in late May by another company of volunteers.

 After the Civil War

Painting of Fort Mackinac by Seth Eastman, 1872

Sometime later after his release, Guild wrote and testified to the politeness with which they were treated while prisoners at Fort Mackinac. He wrote how Wormer treated them as well as his orders permitted. At one point, Guild was allowed to participate in a local trial of an Indian for murder. During the time they spent in the quarters within Fort Mackinac, Wormer paid to have them furnished. Wormer wrote in a letter to the Commissary General of Prisoners Colonel W. Hoffman, “I have this day bought what furniture will answer them, also some cheap table furniture.” [4]. It seems, though, that they were treated even better when they were lodged in the Mission House Hotel prior to the quarters being completed. Captain Wormer wrote to Colonel Hoffman in that same letter, “under guard of one sergeant and three men (and on parole), who guarded the house both day and night, and when they took a walk about the island they always went with them” [4]. It is evident that Wormer was kind enough to let them walk about the islands and see its beautiful scenery. He could have just had them just get their exercise by walking about around the Mission House. While the prisoners were at the fort, they applied to have their families join them, though it does not seem like that was permitted.

Even though enough soldiers had been placed on the island and repairs had been made on Fort Mackinac, war secretary Edwin Stanton, who originally had sent the three prisoners to the fort, made a decision to not station any more prisoners there. On 10 September 1862, the prisoners were moved to Johnson’s Island in Lake Erie, which had been turned into a Union POW camp (see that story here). On their way to Johnson’s Island, the three men were allowed to take a loyalty oath and return home to Tennessee. Harding and Guild took this oath, while Barrow did not. Since Barrow did not take this oath, he is the only man in history to be confined in both the Union prisons on Mackinac Island and Johnson’s Island.

Barrow, upon returning to Tennessee after being exchanged in March of 1863, ran for Confederate governor of the State but was unsuccessful. Because of this, he spent the rest of the war as a private in the retreating Army of Tennessee. After the Civil War, Washington Barrow petitioned for a presidential pardon on September 15, 1865. On October 6, 1865, President Andrew Johnson issued Barrow and all Confederate soldiers amnesty papers [10: 591]. Barrow then returned back to Nashville, in a very unhealthy state and ruined financially. He died within the year.

Josephus Conn Guild was kept as a prisoner at Fort Mackinac until he made an oath not to assist the Confederacy against the Union. After he made said oath, he returned to his hometown of Gallatin, Tennessee on September 25, 1862 [13]. When he was older, Guild wrote a memoir entitled Old Times in Tennessee (1878) [13].

Following the Civil War, William Giles Harding and his son-in-law, W. H. Jackson, developed the Belle Meade Plantations into one of the world’s greatest horse-breeding establishments. Upon Harding’s death in 1886, the Chattanooga Times called Harding “a monarch in his own domain.” The Belle Meade Plantation now serves as a museum and a wedding and event venue.

After the removal of the prisoners from Fort Mackinac, Captain Grover Wormer’s Stanton Guard was mustered out of service on September 25, 1862. Captain Wormer served afterwards as a Lieutenant Colonel in the 8th Michigan Calvary, and a Colonel in the 30th Michigan Infantry. On March 13 1865, he was brevetted Brigadier General of U.S. Volunteers and was honorably discharged soon after on June 30, 1865. Most of the battles that Wormer fought in were in Tennessee. General Wormer died on January 26, 1904.


1. McDonall, Lt. Col. Comd.
Letter to Colonel Butler. 6 May 1815.

2. Letter of Col. C. A. Waite to Gen. L. Thomas, 3June1862.

3. Letter of Col. C. A. Waite to Capt. G. S. Wormer, 25May1862.

4. Letter of Capt. G. S. Wormer to Col. W. Hoffman, 3June1862.

5. Kelton, Dwight. 1891 “Historical Events.” Annals of Fort Mackinac. Jacker Edition ed.         Fergus Printing Company

6. W. A. Provine, “Tennessee Prisoners at Fort Mackinac“, The Wisconsin Magazine of              History, Vol. 4, No. 2 (1920), pp. 220-221.

7. William H. Dimick, “History of Fort Mackinac“, The Wisconsin Magazine of History,           Vol. 3, No. 4 (1920), pp. 471-473.

8. Fort Mackinac as a Civil War Prison. (3SEPT2012).

9. Quaife, M., Schafer, J., & Alexander, E. (Eds.), The Wisconsin Magazine of History,
    Vol. 4 (1917).

10. Graf, L., Haskins, R., & Bergeron, P. (Eds.), The Papers of Andrew Johnson:                         September 1865-January 1866, Vol. 9 (1967).

11. Graf, LeRoy, and Ralph Haskins. (Eds.), The Papers of Andrew Johnson: September           1861-January 1862, Vol. 5. (1967), U of Tennessee.

12. John McGlone, “George Washington Barrow (1808-1866).” (2010) George                             Washington Barrow.

13. Walter Durham, “Josephus Conn Guild.” (25DEC2009), Josephus Conn Guild.