With 2011 being the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the American Civil War, it is appropriate to mention the Austin Fire Department’s involvement in the war between the states. Austin Hook and Ladder #1 was organized on September 25, 1857. By 1861, there were already over 100 volunteers amongst the ranks. According to Suzanne Scott, who in 2006 wrote a thesis on the history of the Volunteer Austin Fire Dept. (1857-1916), 75% of Hook and Ladder #1 members joined the Confederate Army, while a striking 25% of the members signed up with the Union troops. The Central Texas area had many German immigrants in the mid-1800s, and according to her research, they were sympathetic to the Union. In fact, when secession was put to a voter referendum in Texas, Travis County was one of the few Texas Counties that voted against separation with the North.
By 1861, Hook and Ladder #1 was the only Volunteer Fire Company that had been organized in Austin. Due to the breakout of the War, the next fire company organized, Washington Fire Company #1, was delayed until 1868. Currently, the oldest known relic of the Austin Fire Department resides in the Austin History Center and directly relates to the Civil War. The following picture is a copy of an original invitation to a “Grand Military Ball given by Austin Hook and Ladder Fire Co. No. 1 to the Tom Green Rifles at the Capitol on June 24, 1861″. The Tom Green Rifles were a local regiment that was in the 4th Texas Company B Infantry, which saw heavy casualties in 1862 at the Battle of Gaines’ Mill in Virginia. Third Lt. Robert J. Lambert, who is listed as a founding member of Hook and Ladder 1 was killed in the Gaines’ Mill battle.