John Donovan was born in 1839 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
John left Pennsylvania and moved west, settling in Michigan sometime before 1864.
He reportedly enlisted in the 14th U.S. infantry. There is no further record.
John stood 5’10” with blue eyes, brown hair and a florid complexion, and was a 25-year-old lumberman living in Manistee, Manistee County when he enlisted in Company I on February 6, 1864, at Grand Rapids for 3 years, crediting Manistee, and was mustered the same day. He joined the Regiment on February 17 at Camp Bullock, Virginia, and was wounded in the right shoulder and cheek in early May. He was subsequently hospitalized and was still absent sick when he was transferred to Company I, 5th Michigan infantry upon consolidation of the 3rd and 5th Michigan Regiments on June 10, 1864.
John remained absent sick through February of 1865, although he may have in fact been taken prisoner, possibly during the Wilderness campaign, and eventually paroled and sent to a hospital in Baltimore and from there to the hospital at Camp Parole in Maryland where he was admitted on June 23, 1864. He may have run afoul of the authorities while in the hospital and was possibly confined in the guardhouse for five days from October 11-17, 1864.
He was mustered out of service on July 5, 1865 at Jeffersonville, Indiana.
John also served in the 45th Veterans Reserve Corps and was discharged at the end of his term of service in July of 1870.
It is not known if John returned to Michigan after the war.
In August of 1865 he applied for and received a pension (no. 338473) for service in the 5th and 14th U.S. infantry regiments (no mention of the VRC regiment). He was a Catholic and worked primarily as a laborer.
John was possibly living in Milwaukee, Wisconsin when he was admitted as a single man to the Northwestern Branch National Military Home (NMH) in Milwaukee on October 19, 1990. He listed his nearest relative as a nephew George Febry, living in Milwaukee. John went AWOL from the Home on June 29, 1894 and was readmitted on August 10, 1896.
Donavan was killed when railroad cars at the Grand Avenue viaduct struck him on October 2, 1902. He was buried in Wood National Cemetery: block 15, grave 259.