Manuscripts Division
William L. Clements Library
University of Michigan

Finding aid for
John A. Bodamer Journal, 1864-1870

James S. Schoff Civil War Collection

Finding aid created by
Rob S. Cox, December 1991

Summary Information
Title: John A. Bodamer journal
Creator: Bodamer, John A.
Inclusive dates: 1864-1870
Bulk dates: 1864-1865
Extent: 4 items
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.
Language: The material is in English
Repository: William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan
909 S. University Ave.
The University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1190
Phone: 734-764-2347
Web Site:

Access and Use
Acquisition Information:

1984, 1985. M-2150, M-2228, F-71.

Access Restrictions:

The collection is open for research.


Copyright status is unknown.

Alternate Format:

A typescript of the diary accompanies the collection.

Preferred Citation:

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.

Subject Terms

    • Belle Isle (Prison)
    • Cold Harbor, Battle of, Va., 1864.
    • Danville Prison.
    • Food.
    • Hunger.
    • Libby Prison.
    • Murder--Virginia--Danville Prison.
    • North Anna River, Battle of, Va., 1864.
    • Petersburg (Va.)--Siege, 1864-1865.
    • Presidents--Election--1864.
    • Prison homicide.
    • Prisoners of war--Death.
    • Prisoners of war--Transportation.
    • Salisbury Prison (N.C.)
    • Self-injurious behavior.
    • Skirmishing.
    • 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.
    Genre Terms:
    • Diaries.
    • Photographs.
    • Tintypes.
    Contents List
    Container / Location Title
    Box   103, Schoff Civil War Collection Folder   5
    John A. Bodamer journal,  1864 February 6-1865 February 22 [series]
    Box   103, Schoff Civil War Collection Folder   6
    Letter and document [series]
    Walter C. Newberry ALS to Horatio Seymour; near Weldon R.R., Virginia;  1864 September 5. Reporting on the capture of Sgt. Bodamer.
    E. D. Townsend ADS Cy to John A. Bodamer; Washington, D.C.;  1870 November 25. Honorable discharge for 1st Lieut. Bodamer.
    Box   103, Schoff Civil War Collection Folder   7
    John A. Bodamer journal (typescript),  1864 February 6-1865 February 22 [series]
    Additional Descriptive Data
    Alternate Locations

    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)

    Partial Subject Index
    Belle Isle (Va.) Military Prison
    • 1864 Aug. 24-Oct. 7
    Bethesda Church, Battle of, 1864
    • See Cold Harbor, Battle of, 1864
    • 1864 Sept. 24
    Burnside, Ambrose Everett, 1824-1881
    • 1864 July 30
    Chancellorsville Battlefield
    • 1864 May 8
    Cold Harbor, Battle of, 1864
    • 1864 June 1-3
    Contract labor
    • 1864 Sept. 25
    Convict labor--Virginia--Danville Prison
    • 1864 Sept. 25
    Courts-martial and courts of inquiry
    • 1864 Nov. 28
    Danville Military Prison (Va.)
    • 1864 Oct. 21-1865 Feb. 19
    Escapes--Virginia--Danville Prison
    • 1864 Nov. 5
    • 1864 Sept. 9, 24-26, Oct., Nov., Dec. (passim)
    • 1864 Oct. 26
    • 1864 Oct. 11, 12, 1865 Jan. 24
    Libby (Va.) Military Prison
    • 1864 Aug. 21-23
    Loyalty oaths--Confederate States of America
    • 1864 Sept. 13
    • 1864 June 5
    • 1864 May 29
    Murder--Virginia--Danville Prison
    • 1864 Sept. 24, Oct. 3, 16
    North Anna River, Battle of, 1864
    • 1864 May 23-27
    Petersburg (Va.)--Siege, 1864
    • 1864 June 18-July 26
    Petersburg Crater, Battle of, 1864
    • 1864 July 30
    Petersburg, Battle of, 1864
    • 1864 June 16-18
    Pine Plain, Battle of, 1864
    • See Wilderness, Battle of, 1864
    • 1864 Mar 17
    • 1864 Nov. 8, 10
    Prison guards--Confederate States of America
    • 1864 Sept. 24
    Prison homicide
    • 1864 Sept. 24, Oct. 3, 16
    Prisoners of war--Capture
    • 1864 Aug. 21
    Prisoners of war--Death
    • 1864 Sept. 22, Oct. 6, 13, Nov. 25
    Prisoners of war--Fighting
    • 1864 Sept. 3, 6, 28
    Prisoners of war--Transport
    • 1864 Oct. 7, 8
    Salisbury (N.C.) Military Prison
    • 1864 Oct. 10-19
    Self-inflicted wounds
    • 1864 June 7, Aug. 9
    • 1864 May 12-14, 21, 30, 31, June 23-24, Aug. 21
    Soldiers, convalescent--Confederate States of America
    • 1864 Sept. 24
    Spotsylvania Campaign, 1864
    • 1864 May 7-21
    • 1864 Nov. 28
    United States--Civil War, 1861-1865--African American prisoners of war
    • 1864 Nov. 25, 28
    United States--Civil War, 1861-1865--Participation, African American
    • 1864 June 9, 22-23, July 30
    United States--Civil War, 1861-1865--Prison discipline
    • 1864 Sept. 19, 24, Nov. 28
    United States--Civil War, 1861-1865--Prisoners and prisons
    • 1864 Aug. 21-1865 Feb. 21
    United States--Civil War, 1861-1865--Prisoners and prisons--Postal service
    • 1864 Nov. 15
    United States. Army--Officers
    • 1864 June 8
    Weldon Railroad, Battle of, 1864
    • 1864 Aug. 18-19
    Wilderness Campaign, 1864
    • 1864 May 6-7