Obituary of James M. Deems
April 19, 1901

An obituary for UVA Unionist and music teacher James M. Deems.



         Gen. James M. Deems, the well-known music teacher and veteran of the Civil War, died about 10 minutes past 3 o’clock yesterday morning at his home, 801 Hollins street. His death was due to an attack of acute Bright’s disease, with which he was stricken on Sunday morning.

         General Deems was born in Baltimore on January 5, 1818, and was a son of Capt. Jacob Deems, who commanded a company of the Fifty-third Maryland Regiment in the War of 1812. He developed a remarkable talent for music at an early age, and when 5 years old played the bugle. At 13 he became a member of an orchestra in this city. He went to Germany in 1839 to continue the study of music at Dresden, where he made great progress. While at Dresden he became involved in a difficulty with a German army officer and for a time a duel between the two was threatened. His proposition to fight with army rifles at 10 paces proved too much for the army officer and the duel never took place.

         Returning to the United States he began the instruction of music. This was in 1849. A short time afterward he accepted the professorship of music in the University of Virginia, which he resigned in 1858 to go to Europe with his family. In 1860 he returned and enlisted the next year in the First Maryland Cavalry, with the rank of major. He served with bravery in the battles of Charlestown, Orange Courthouse, Madison Courthouse, Cedar Mountain, Second Bull Run, second Fredericksburg and Gettysburg. He was promoted to be a brigadier-general for gallantry on the field of battle. After the war he resumed the teaching of music and for many years conducted a music school at Fremont avenue and Hollins street. He was the author of a number of textbooks of music. His classbook of vocal music, together with his book on piano, cornet and organ methods, are among the best known of his works. He also wrote a grand opera, a comic opera and an oratorio, “Nebuchadnezzar.”

         General Deems’ wife died a number of years ago. He leaves three sons—Mr. J. Harry Deems, formerly teacher of music in the public schools; Charles W. Deems, of Denver, Col., and Capt. Clarence Deems, of the Sixth Artillery, now stationed at Manila. Ten grandchildren also survive him. General Deems was a member of the Franklin Square Baptist Church, and for many years was cornetist in the church and Sunday-school. He belonged to the Loyal Legion, the Grand Army of the Republic, the Odd-Fellows and the Masons.

         At the meeting of the Department of Maryland, Grand Army of the Republic, last night action was taken concerning the death of General Deems. The active pallbearers at his funeral will be furnished and the funeral services conducted by Custer Post, No. 6, of which General Deems was a member. A delegation from the department, as well as kindred organizations, such as the Union Veterans’ Association, the Loyal Legion and the survivors of the First Maryland Cavalry, of which General Deems was an officer, will act as an escort. Two honorary pallbearers will be furnished by each organization.


Printed in Baltimore Sun, April 19, 1901.