Though the attack on Fort Sumter that started the Civil War did not occur until April 12, 1861, John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry served as a catalyst to fuel the anti-slavery and pro-slavery factions into a more drastic action. As part of the violence of the "Bleeding Kansas...
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"Old Lady" was built for the Mechanical Company in Philadelphia in 1821. In 1847, the pumper was totally rebuilt by the Rogers Company in Baltimore. In 1860, the Mechanical Company took delivery of a steam pumper and sold "Old Lady" to the United Fire Company of Frederick. "Old Lady" was purchased for $400 and arrived in Frederick on April 19, 1860.
During the Civil War, the "Swamp Hall" was used by the Union forces and the fire company was reimbursed $168 from the federal government. According to the book One Vast Hospital: The Civil War Hospital Sites in Frederick, Maryland After Antietam by Terry Reimer, the Junior Hall was used as part of General Hospital No. 6 to treat soldiers from the Battle of Antietam.
During the Civil War, the militia units of the volunteer fire companies eventually disbanded, probably due to allegiance to both the Union and Confederacy by the company members. According to Englebrecht's diary, "Brengle's Home Guards" were organized on April 24, 1861. No doubt, many of the members of this civilian militia unit were members of the former fire company militias. Later in that year, the Englebrecht diary notes the "Frederick Zouaves" were mustered. In the diary are familiar names from the local fire companies. As many "Zouave" units in the Northeast were organized by fire companies, it appears the members of the Frederick fire companies were active participants in this unit throughout the Civil War.
The early fire service of our nation has a proud and colorful history. Much has been written of the efforts to provide fire protection in the earliest settlements, but the contributions of the fire service go well beyond fire protection. Throughout our history, fire companies have responded to the needs of our country. Though little has been written, the contributions of the brave members of the fire companies at Harpers Ferry and throughout the Civil War are a testimony to the instinct of every firefighter to respond, even when it is "not to fight a fire."
CLARENCE "CHIP" JEWELL is director of the Frederick County, MD, Department of Emergency Communications. He has been active in the fire service of Frederick County for 42 years and is a life member of Junior Fire Company No. 2 and life member and assistant chief of the Libertytown Volunteer Fire Department. Jewell is president of the Frederick County Fire & Rescue Museum, which opens this month in Emmitsburg, MD. He is co-author of Firefighting in Frederick and author of Firefighting in Frederick County, published by Arcadia Publishing, and he performs a living history of the Frederick County fire service. He is a member of the Frederick County Historical Society and chairman of the Historical and Archives Committee of the Maryland State Firemen's Association. Jewell is a member of the Frederick County Fire/Rescue and Maryland State Firemen's Association Hall of Fame. He is a Level III fire service instructor and a field instructor for the Maryland Fire/Rescue Institute (MFRI).
COMMEMORATIONS & RE-ENACTMENTS
On Oct. 17, 2009, a commemoration of the response to Harpers Ferry was held with Lieutenant John Arnold of the United Fire Company ringing the original "Swamp Bell" mounted atop the United Fire Company at exactly 10 A.M., 150 years to the minute of the original summons.
On April 30, 2011, a re-enactment of the special session of the Maryland Legislature in Frederick will be held with activities throughout the day. On Sunday, May 1, 2011, a commemoration of the Frederick Court House fire will be held with the "Old Lady" on display and possibly restored to pumping condition.
The original "Old Lady" was also in service in Libertytown from 1880 to 1932. "Old Lady" is presently owned by the Libertytown Volunteer Fire Department and displayed at the Frederick County Fire & Rescue Museum at 300 South Seton Ave. in Emmitsburg, a block north of the National Fire Academy.