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Bloody Sunday


On January 22, 1905, a peaceful demonstration of workers in St. Petersburg was dispersed by troops with considerable loss of life. The event triggered the 1905 Revolution.

The demonstration was organized by the Assembly of Russian Factory and Mill Workers of St. Petersburg, a labor organization patronized initially by police authorities and led by an Orthodox priest, Father Georgy Gapon. When four members of the Assembly were fired from the giant Putilov Works just before Christmas, the Assembly felt its very existence threatened and decided to resort to the desperate means of an illegal strike. The Putilov Works was struck on the January 16, but by January 20 the entire city of St. Petersburg was paralyzed by the strike. All eleven branches of the Assembly became perpetual meeting places for the strikers. There was much discussion about the workers presenting a petition to Nicholas II, outlining their grievances. At a meeting with some of his lieutenants, Gapon asked if they should not take their petition directly to the tsar himself. The idea was enthusiastically supported and spread like wildfire. When the petition was finished, copies of "The Most Humble and Loyal Address" were sent to important ministers and the tsar. The address was to be delivered at 2 p.m. on Sunday at the Winter Palace Square.

Before the fateful day, the branches of the Assembly held continuous meetings; the petition was read, and workers cried, fell on their knees, and swore to die for their cause. Wound up by the oratory, they were determined to reach the Palace Square. The Minister of the Interior, not realizing the seriousness of the situation, assured Nicholas II that matters were under control and that he was completely confident a show of force would be sufficient to stop the demonstration.

Each branch made its own arrangement to arrive at the Square by 2 p.m. Members of the farthest branch departed in the early morning hours. The largest procession came from the main branch at the Putilov Works, and was led by Gapon. Efforts were made to give it a religious appearance: Religious paraphernalia, icons, and portraits of tsars were carried at the head of the procession. Shortly after eleven o'clock the immense crowd began to move, singing prayers and the national anthem just as church bells were announcing the end of services. The crowd moved along the main thoroughfare toward the Narva Triumphal Arch, where the road across the river was blocked by troops. The commander tried to disperse the crowd with cavalry; then the bugle sounded a warning, followed by a warning volley over the crowd. This seemed only to encourage workers; they closed ranks and, singing louder, began to run at the troops. Soldiers lowered their rifles and began shooting at the crowd. Most of the casualties that day occurred during this procession. Similar events unfolded in several other locations. In some areas the crowds were dispersed without the use of firearms; in others, workers were allowed to pass on their own. On one bridge the officer said he could not let them cross but did not stop workers from crossing on the ice below the bridge.

Despite the shootings, many workers reached the Square, where the Guards barred their way. In the crowd were many survivors of earlier shootings; many were wounded, but all anxiously awaited the appointed hour. The hour came and nothing happened. As the demonstrators were becoming unruly, the commander of the Guards decided to disperse them. A volley was fired near Alexander Garden. The crowd was pushed onto Nevsky Prospect, where some officials in uniforms and policemen were attacked. Troops tried to clear the area, and more shots were fired.

In Russia and abroad, there was universal revulsion at the shooting of peaceful demonstrators. The authorities themselves were shocked; nobody had wanted what happened. The press reported thousands killed, but the official count eventually listed 130 killed, including a policeman. Bloody Sunday, as it became known, began the Revolution of 1905.

See also: gapon, georgy apollonovich; revolution of 1905


Ascher, Abraham. (1988). "Gapon and Bloody Sunday." In his Revolution of 1905, vol. 1. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Sablinsky, Walter. (1976). The Road to Bloody Sunday: Father Gapon and the St. Petersburg Massacre of 1905. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Walter Sablinsky

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‘Bloody Sunday’

‘Bloody Sunday’, 1887, 1920. The encounter on 13 November 1887 in Trafalgar Square between radicals and Irish and police, supported by troops, attempting to enforce a ban, left two demonstrators killed, though no shots were fired. A small incident by most standards, it shocked Victorian England. ‘Bloody Sunday’ in Dublin on 21 November 1920 saw a different scale of savagery. Fourteen British officers were murdered in their homes or hotels by the Irish Republican Army, and in the afternoon Black and Tan troops opened fire on a Gaelic football crowd at Croke Park, killing twelve.

J. A. Cannon

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"‘Bloody Sunday’." The Oxford Companion to British History. . 13 Dec. 2017 <>.

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