William L. Clements Library
University of Michigan
Finding aid for
John A. Bodamer Journal, 1864-1870
James S. Schoff Civil War CollectionFinding aid created by
Rob S. Cox, December 1991
John A. Bodamer journal
Bodamer, John A.
John A. Bodamer's journal documents his service in the 24th New York Cavalry during the Civil War. He fought in the Spotsylvania Campaign and the Battles of North Anna River, Cold Harbor, and Petersburg, and was a prisoner at the Confederate camps, Belle Isle and Danville.
The material is in English
William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan
909 S. University Ave.
The University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1190
Web Site: www.clements.umich.edu
Access and Use
1984, 1985. M-2150, M-2228, F-71.
The collection is open for research.
Copyright status is unknown.
A typescript of the diary accompanies the collection.
John A. Bodamer Journal, James S. Schoff Civil War Collection, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan
Bodamer, John A.
Rank : Sgt.
Regiment : 24th New York Cavalry Regiment. Co. M (1863-1865)
Service : 1861-1870 November 25
From the beginning days of the Civil War in April, 1861, John Bodamer was a drummer in the 21st New York Infantry. After serving through several campaigns in Virginia and Maryland, he was honorably discharged in May, 1863. On December 26, Bodamer reenlisted at Buffalo, N.Y., as a Corporal in Co. M, 24th New York Cavalry. The regiment left the state at the end of February, 1864, and served under quiet conditions, dismounted in the vicinity of Washington, D.C., until the end of May. Once remounted and attached to the Army of the Potomac, revitalized by the new leadership of Ulysses Grant, they entered into a seemingly unbroken string of bitter engagements, including the Wilderness, Spotsylvania C.H., North Anna River, Cold Harbor, Bethesda Church, and Petersburg. Exhaustion clearly took its toll on the regiment: "Three men died last night on the march.," wrote Bodamer; "One time a thousand men layed on either side of the road completely played out" (1864 May 29). After Cold Harbor, Bodamer remarked on how both sides seem to have played out, exchanging fire only lackadaisically, "both parties do not seem to care a great deal about firing" (1864 June 11).
On June 15th, Bodamer joined in the first assault on Petersburg, an engagement "where our boys dropped like rain" (1864 June 18), but otherwise accomplished little. On July 30, the 24th N.Y. Cavalry fought alongside a "colored" regiment during the disastrous Mine Assault. Bodamer insisted that the "colored" troops went in well, but "ran like sheep" when charged by the Confederates, and he was enraged at being asked to serve with Blacks: "I say put the niggers out of our Corps as I don't want to be in the Corps they are in" (1864 July 30).
While on duty following the Battle of Weldon Railroad, Bodamer and his entire detail of almost 400 men from the 24th Cavalry were taken as prisoners of war. Transported through Petersburg and Richmond, the men experienced inhuman conditions in a series of Confederate prison camps, including Libby, Belle Isle, and Danville.
Bodamer witnessed what he claimed were two murders by guards. In the first, the guard, a 15 year old boy, shot a prisoner in revenge for a brother killed by Union soldiers, and following the second incident, Bodamer claimed the guard was actually promoted, rather than punished. Death also visited the prison through accident or neglect. In one of the more gruesome episodes witnessed by Bodamer, a prisoner was eaten alive by hogs while too ill to fend them off. Making matters worse, hunger and the elements worsened as winter set it. By November, "the screams in Prison No. 6, pen and language cannot express the misery that exist" (1864 Nov. 6). Bodamer survived the winter and was paroled in February, 1865. He appears to have transferred into the regular army after the war, and was discharged as a 1st Lieutenant in the 10th Cavalry in November, 1870.
Collection Scope and Content Note
John Bodamer's diary begins on the day he mustered in for his second enlistment. His entries are uneventful and very brief until the beginning of May, but from that point for a solid month, beginning with the "Battle of Pine Plain" (near the Wilderness) on May 6th, Bodamer records an almost continuous sequence of hard marches, little sleep, poor food, skirmishes, and battles, as the 24th Cavalry fought successively through the Spotsylvania Campaign and the Battles of North Anna River, Cold Harbor, and Petersburg.
The heart of the diary is the passages recording his experiences as a prisoner at the notorious Belle Isle and Danville camps. Although the entries are brief, they are powerful testimony to the harsh conditions and inhumane treatment of prisoners. After December, Bodamer's diary entries become more scattered and shorter, perhaps as a result of his deteriorated condition.
The collection includes a tintype and two letters, one from his commander informing Bodamer's family of his capture and the other, his honorable discharge from the Army as 1st Lieutenant in the 10th Cavalry, November, 1870.
- Belle Isle (Prison)
- Cold Harbor, Battle of, Va., 1864.
- Danville Prison.
- Libby Prison.
- Murder--Virginia--Danville Prison.
- North Anna River, Battle of, Va., 1864.
- Petersburg (Va.)--Siege, 1864-1865.
- Prison homicide.
- Prisoners of war--Death.
- Prisoners of war--Transportation.
- Salisbury Prison (N.C.)
- Self-injurious behavior.
- United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--African Americans.
- United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Participation, African American.
- United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Prisoners and prisons.
- Wilderness, Battle of the, Va., 1864.
Additional Descriptive Data
A full-length tintype portrait of John Bodamer in uniform, standing with an unidentified civilian (possibly a brother), is located in the Clements Library's Graphics Division. (C.3.3)
Belle Isle (Va.) Military PrisonBethesda Church, Battle of, 1864
BriberyBurnside, Ambrose Everett, 1824-1881Chancellorsville BattlefieldCold Harbor, Battle of, 1864Contract laborConvict labor--Virginia--Danville PrisonCourts-martial and courts of inquiryDanville Military Prison (Va.)
- See Cold Harbor, Battle of, 1864
- 1864 Oct. 21-1865 Feb. 19
- 1864 Sept. 9, 24-26, Oct., Nov., Dec. (passim)
Libby (Va.) Military PrisonLoyalty oaths--Confederate States of AmericaMapsMarches--VirginiaMurder--Virginia--Danville Prison
- 1864 Oct. 11, 12, 1865 Jan. 24
North Anna River, Battle of, 1864Petersburg (Va.)--Siege, 1864Petersburg Crater, Battle of, 1864Petersburg, Battle of, 1864Pine Plain, Battle of, 1864
- 1864 Sept. 24, Oct. 3, 16
PoetryPresidents--Election--1864Prison guards--Confederate States of AmericaPrison homicide
- See Wilderness, Battle of, 1864
Prisoners of war--CapturePrisoners of war--Death
- 1864 Sept. 24, Oct. 3, 16
Prisoners of war--FightingPrisoners of war--TransportSalisbury (N.C.) Military PrisonSelf-inflicted woundsSkirmishing
- 1864 Sept. 22, Oct. 6, 13, Nov. 25
Soldiers, convalescent--Confederate States of AmericaSpotsylvania Campaign, 1864StealingUnited States--Civil War, 1861-1865--African American prisoners of warUnited States--Civil War, 1861-1865--Participation, African American
- 1864 May 12-14, 21, 30, 31, June 23-24, Aug. 21
United States--Civil War, 1861-1865--Prison discipline
- 1864 June 9, 22-23, July 30
United States--Civil War, 1861-1865--Prisoners and prisons
- 1864 Sept. 19, 24, Nov. 28
United States--Civil War, 1861-1865--Prisoners and prisons--Postal serviceUnited States. Army--OfficersWeldon Railroad, Battle of, 1864Wilderness Campaign, 1864
- 1864 Aug. 21-1865 Feb. 21