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Jonathan Alexander Ashcraft

Son of Joel and Martha “Patsey” Ferguson

Jonathan, tenth child of Joel and Patsey, was born April 26, 1835 in York County, South Carolina. He was one of the first groups of Ashcrafts to arrive in Cleveland County, Arkansas. At age eighteen, Jonathan, along with his brothers Morten, William, and Uriah, his sister Rebecca and her husband, A. Jackson Chambers, accompanied their uncle Jesse Ashcraft and his sons to ‘The Natural State’.

In 1853, Jonathan arrived in Cleveland County (then part of Bradley County) where he married Sarah Dorcus Isom, daughter of William B. Isom and stepdaughter of Ruth E. Ashcraft Isom. Jonathan and Sarah were the parents of five children – Mary Etta, Calvin Monroe, Margaret Virginia, Joseph Albert and Susan Emily.

By the first of June in 1859, Jonathan had paid for eighty acres located about two miles to the east of Big Creek. He made a home for his family on this land, growing cotton for a living. Their three oldest children were born here before the Civil War disrupted their lives.

In April of 1862 at age 27, Jonathan, along with three of his brothers and a first cousin, enlisted in the Confederate Army with Capt. Halliday’s Co. D of the 26th Arkansas Infantry. A nineteen-year-old neighbor, John W. Hamilton, joined them. Young John and Jonathan would spend the rest of the war as companions and years later would become brothers-in-law.

December of 1862, during the Battle of Prairie Grove, Jonathan was hit in the left foot by a bullet. He recovered at Fort Smith and went on to fight until March 29th of 1864 when the Yankees at Longview captured him and John within forty miles of their homes. They were taken to Pine Bluff via Mount Elba. Many Confederates took the Oath of Amnesty and Allegiance to the United States Government at Pine Bluff during this time, but Jonathan and John would not.

They were then moved to Little Rock on April 4th. From there they were loaded onto a steamboat and transported up the Mississippi River. Jonathan and John would spend nine months at the Federal military prison located on an island in the Mississippi River between Davenport, Iowa and Moline, Illinois.

Rock Island Prison, built in the fall of 1863, was situated on a swampy twelve-acre section on the northern side of the rocky island. The first Confederate prisoners arrived in December in below-zero temperatures before construction was even complete. By the end of the month, over five thousand prisoners were crammed into this dismal penal complex.

Each of the barracks buildings was one hundred feet long, twenty-two feet wide and twelve feet high. The buildings each had two doors, twelve windows and two four-foot roof ventilators. A kitchen for each unit was located at one end of the building separated from the sleeping quarters by a wall eighteen feet from the west end. The remaining eighty-two feet contained sixty double bunk beds. A twelve-foot high fence enclosed the 84-unit compound with a boardwalk constructed four feet from the top on the outside. Guards manned the sentry boxes, which were placed every one hundred feet.

Sanitation was appalling and disease soon became pervasive. Within the first few months alone hundreds of prisoners died during a smallpox epidemic. Others fell victim to dysentery and pneumonia. The dead were hastily buried adjacent to the prison grounds, an unhealthy procedure in itself. Then in February, the bodies of over nine hundred Confederate soldiers were moved away from the compound to improve sanitation. A ‘non-contagious’ hospital was constructed and the fatality rate among the prisoners decreased dramatically.

Jonathan and John arrived at the prison on May 27th, 1864. The following month, the United States Secretary of War, in retaliation to the treatment of Union prisoners held at Andersonville, Georgia, ordered that rations to the prisoners be reduced. The resulting malnutrition contributed the deaths of at least twelve of the Arkansans fellow prisoners from scurvy.


Submitted by Sharon Ashcraft