James Monroe Deems

James Monroe Deems was born in Baltimore, Maryland on January 5, 1818, to Colonel Jacob Deems and his wife Susannah. Born into relative prosperity, James inherited a strong military background. His grandfather, Frederick Deems, had served in the Continental Army throughout the American Revolution and his father had commanded a company of Maryland Infantry during the War of 1812 before pursuing a career in local politics as a National Republican and Whig, serving for a time as city collector. Deems first displayed his musical talent as a military bugler, but he quickly picked up a variety of instruments under the direction of Captain James Rountree and had mastered the clarinet and French horn by the age of 13. Eager to pursue a career as a musician, Deems traveled to Dresden and studied under the famed German cellist and composer J. F. F. Dotzhauer. Returning to the United States in 1841, Deems began teaching music and composing in Baltimore, where he married Mary Isabelle Flack on October 14,1844. They had four children: Florence, born 1845; James, born 1848; Clarence, born 1851; and Charles William, born 1860.

Like his father, Deems supported the Whig Party. In 1841, he composed a "Tippecanoe Slow Grand March," which he dedicated to President William H. Harrison. During the election of 1844, he composed at least two songs celebrating Whig presidential candidate Henry Clay. In one song, he declared that Clay's "cause is the cause of his country! and truth / Was allied to that cause, from the dawn of its youth / From the day that our fathers enkindled the flame / That gave light to a world, and to manhood a name." 

In October 1848, Deems became the instructor of music at the University of Virginia, taking over from Jacob Bigelow, who had held the post since the University opened in 1825. Although formally recognized as an instructor by the faculty, Deems did not draw a salary from UVA. Instead, he made his living from lesson fees and from his secondary role as a teacher at the Albemarle Female Institute, a private academy for young women in Charlottesville. Becoming friends with long-standing professors such as Gessner Harrison, Deems and his wife prospered in Charlottesville and raised a family in the community. Amid rising sectional tensions, Deems pushed back against the Southern nationalism endorsed by UVA students and faculty alike, composing a Unionist anthem titled “Our National Flag” in 1857.

In 1858, Deems resigned his place at UVA and departed on a European tour, returning to the United States as the sectional crisis reached its climax. Deeply committed to the Union, Deems wrote more patriotic anthems in the lead-up and aftermath of the election of 1860. Following the outbreak of hostilities in 1861, he secured a commission as a major in the First Maryland Cavalry. After serving actively as both a field officer and a member of General Franz Siegel’s staff, Deems received a promotion to Lieutenant Colonel and took command of the regiment in the spring of 1863. He would lead the First Maryland through the bloody campaign which followed, including the Battle of Gettysburg, before chronic rheumatism forced him to retire from active service in November. Returning to Baltimore, Deems began giving music lessons and worked as a professor at the Maryland Institute, though he briefly took to the field again during Jubal Early’s 1864 raid into Maryland. In 1867, in recognition of his wartime service, Deems received a promotion to Brevet Brigadier General dating from March 13, 1865.

In the years after the war, Deems continued his career as a musician and instructor, operating an independent studio in Baltimore for the next three decades. All the while, he remained active in local politics as a Republican. In 1867, he attended a Union League meeting in Baltimore, where he declared racial discrimination "anti-republican" and championed African-American civil rights and suffrage. He also remained active in veterans and memorial organizations, including the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States (MOLLUS). He was also a member of Custer Post #6 of the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR). His contributions were subsequently recognized by a monument at Gettysburg to Deems and his troopers of the First Maryland. Deems died in Baltimore in 1901, survived by several children, including his son Captain Clarence Deems, who had continued the family military tradition by attending West Point and serving in the Spanish-American and Philippine-American Wars.

Image: James Monroe Deems (The Photographic History of the Civil War in Ten Volumes, Vol. 10 (New York, NY: The Review of Reviews Co., 1911), 211).


James M. Deems Praised for Genius

James M. Deems's "All Hail to the Union"

James M. Deems Offers to Raise a Cavalry Regiment during Reconstruction

James M. Deems Attends a Soldiers' Meeting

James M. Deems Champions Civil Rights

Obituary of James M. Deems, April 19, 1901

Name:Deems, James Monroe
Alternative names:
  • Soldier
  • UVA (Union)
1st Regiment Maryland Volunteer CavalryF&S
Branch of service:Army
Muster In1861-12-20Baltimore, MD
Enlistment1861-12-20Baltimore, MD43
Muster Out1863-11-10Discharged for Disability
Residence at UVA:Charlottesville, VA
UVA Begin Year:1848
UVA End Year:1858
Residence at enlistment:Baltimore, MD
Rank In:Major
Rank Out:Lieutenant Colonel
Highest rank achieved:Brevet Brigadier General
Person 1Person 2NumberRelation Type
Deems, James MonroeDeems, James Monroe619888application-invalid
Deems, James Monroenoneapplication-minor
Deems, James Monroenoneapplication-parent
Deems, James Monroenoneapplication-widow
Deems, James MonroeDeems, James Monroe414135certificate-invalid
Birth date:1818-01-05
Birth date certainty:Certain
Birth place:Baltimore, MD
Death date:1901-04-18
Death place:Baltimore, MD
Causes of death:disease: Bright's Disease
Occupations:Teacher, Cellist, Music Instructor, Composer
Person 1Relation TypePerson 2
Deems, James Monroeparent ofDeems, Clarence
Deems, James Monroeparent ofDeems, Florence Rachel
Deems, James Monroeparent ofDeems, James Harry
Deems, James Monroeparent ofDeems, Charles William
Deems, Mary Isabellewife ofDeems, James Monroe

Compiled Military Service Record for James M. Deems, RG 94, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C.; 1850, 1860, 1870, 1880, 1900 U.S. Federal Censuses, accessed through Ancestry.com; Faculty Minutes, of the University of Virginia, October 4, 1848; Maria Carter Harrison to Mary Stuart Harrison, January 9, 1848, Harrison Family Papers, Jefferson’s University: Earl Life, http://juel.iath.virginia.edu; James M. Deems, Our National Flag (Baltimore, 1857), Library of Congress Online Music Collection (https://www.loc.gov/item/ihas.200000989/); James M. Deems and E. Coleman, All Hail to the Union (Baltimore, 1861), Library of Congress Online Music Collection (https://www.loc.gov/item/ihas.200000986/); The Baltimore Sun, July 15, 1841 and October 15, 1844; The Richmond Enquirer, August 14, 1857; The Baltimore Sun, September 2, 1859; The Daily Exchange (Baltimore, MD), July 27, 1860; The Baltimore Sun, June 10, 1865; Der Deutsche Correspondent (Baltimore, MD), June 11, 1888; The Wilmington Morning Star, October 13, 1899; The Standard Union (Brooklyn, NY), April 19, 1901, The Baltimore Sun, April 19, 1901; John H. Eicher and David J. Eicher, Civil War High Commands (Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 2001), 205; Joseph A. Bomberger, “James Monroe Deems,” Groves Music Online, Oxford University Press (https://doi.org/10.1093/gmo/9781561592630.article.A2087325); James M. Deems, Main Index to Original Companions of the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States, MOLLUS website (http://suvcw.org/mollus/orgmem/OrgmemD.htm); James M. Deems, "As the stream from the mountain, a Clay song," Library of Congress.