Russian Sailor killed in Annapolis

ON THURSDAY, February 4, 1864 the Ameircan Civil War claimed the life of a Russian Seaman,  N. Demidoff, of the Russian man-of-war Almay. The story began when a small fleet of Russian ships, destined for Washington, had to put in at Annapolis due to ice blocking the Potomac River.  When the Russian ships anchored, the crews came into town looking for entertainment.   It should be borne in mind that, during the Federal occupation of Annapolis for the duration of the war, the city was a volatile place where lawlessness was a way of life. Demidoff and his mates from the Almay were patronizing the local taverns when one barkeep refused to serve the group as they were already fairly inebriated; Demidoff took offense and began to hassle the barkeep.

Noticing a group of Federal cavalrymen in the establishment, the barkeep asked them to escort Demidoff and his companions out of the establishment.  The Russians went peacefully but, once outside, they assailed their escort and fled.

Pursued by the cavalryman the Russians fled into an establishemnt owned by William T. League, with whom an argument ensued and who, in the course of that argument, shot Demidoff.

THE FUNERAL was attended by all manner of dignitary; following is the report of the occasion, in its entirety, as published in the Annapolis Gazette of Thursday, February 11, 1864:

   FUNERAL - The Russian sailor, shot on last Thursday by Wm. T. League, was buried on Saturday.   The ceremonies were very imposing and after the manner of the Greek Church.  His remains werre followed to the grave by the officers from the Russian vessels, officers attached to the Naval School Hospital, a band with a detachment of armed sailors from the ships, and a number of the members of the Legislature and citizens.
   The correspondent of the Baltimore American says:
   "The funeral of Demidoff, the sailor, took place on Saturday from the chapel of the Naval School.   All the available space in the chapel was crowded by the attendants on the funeral and the spectators.  The ceremonies were of the most solemn and imposing character.   The remains of the deceased were laid out in a neat walnut coffin in the centre of the chapel, and on its left were the officers of the two Russian vessels here and officers of our army and navy, while on the right were detachments of sailors from the Russian vessels.   The services were commenced about ten o'clock, by the chanting of the office for the dead by a choir from the Russian sailors, which was also participated in by many of the Russian officers, led by a Greek priest, attired in the robes and vestments of the Greek Church, according to whose ritual all the ceremonies were conducted.   This lasted for about half an hour, when the mass for the dead was said, during which the priest performed the ceremony of granting absolution.   Two of the messmates of the deceased, acting as acolytes, bearing the holy water vase and censer, attended the priest, who made a circuit several times around the coffin, sprinkling it with holy water and incensing it, reciting the prayers for the dead all the while.

   On the conclusion of this ceremony the priest read aloud in the Russian language some writing from a strip of paper, after which he opened the right hand of the deceased, put the paper in his hand and laid it upon his breast.   The writing is supposed to have been an acocunt of the birth, death, etc., of Demidoff.   The priest then kissed the hand of the body, and all the officers and men of the Russian vessels did the same, many of them�after blessing themselves by making the sign of the cross� bowing to the floor and kissing it before touching the body.   This ceremony of taking leave of the body was very affecting, many of the men shedding tears.

   Four stalwart sailors then placed the coffin�which was still uncovered save by the flag of Russia�on their shoulders, and, while the choir of sailors and the priest chanted a solemn dirge, the remains were conveyed in mournful procession from the Chapel to the open space in front of it, where the procession was formed.   First came a Russian sailor bearing the lid of the coffin on his head; then a detachment of sailors from the ship Almay, the vessel to which the deceased belonged, carrying the coffin; the officiating priestm attired in all the magnificent robes of the Greek Church: the Russian Minister at Washington, accompanied by the officers of the Russian vessels, and officers of the army and navy of the United States; a full brass band belonging to one of the foreign vessels, playing a solemn dirge, sixty marines from the Almay, fully armed and equipped, who marched with the precision of veterans; a detachment of the Invalid Corps, doing duty at the hospitals at Annapolis, the end of the line being brought up by members of the legislature and citizens of Annapolis.   The procession moved with uncovered heads to the entrance to the Academy where a slight halt was made.   All the inmates of the Academy during the march of the procession through the grounds, remained uncovered.

The procession then moved through the city, the band playing and the choir chanting to the military burial ground about one mile from Annapolis, where the last rites of the church were performed.   After prayers and chanting of psalms the sailors again took leave of the body, this time kissing the face.   A large cross was then placed upon the breast of the deceased, a spade full of dirt sprinkled in the coffin, when the lid was screwed down and the remains lowered to their final resting place and the grave filled up in a very short time by the sailors.   The procession was then reformed and marched back again to the Naval Academy.   Dr. Vanderkeift, the Surgeon in charge of the Naval School Hospital, was unremitting in his attentions to the Russian visitors and superintended all the arrangements for the funeral.   It was an event that will long be remembered in our city."

It would appear that the correspondent to the American was correct in his surmisal that this event would be long remembered in Annapolis.

(Point of interest: William T. League, the shooter, was charged with murder and, on Tuesday, Februrary 9, was released on two thousand dollars' bail)

Notable graves at Annapolis National Cemetery
Annapolis National Cemetery
Last updated Wednesday, October 36, 2016