Loyal and true firemen “were always on hand at the first tap of the alarm bell,” announced one Northern newspaper in 1861. “Nor were they backward when the alarm bell of Fort Sumter told us of our danger.”
Firemen joined the Union army in legions after the Civil War started. The First Fire Zouaves of New York City were perhaps the best-known example. Led by Col. Elmer Ellsworth, the regiment “was recruited wholly, or nearly so, from the fire department of that city,” noted one of its officers.
Among the less-publicized cities that contributed large numbers of fireman was Cleveland, Ohio. Local authorities declared in in late April 1861 that it did not have enough firefighters to protect the city.
Roughly two-thirds of Cleveland firemen would enlist during the war years. They came from all walks of life, including Samuel Pickands, a 19-year-old hometown boy of Irish and English ancestry. Known as “Sammie” to his friends and family, Pickands was the youngest of three sons born to a Princeton-educated minister and his wife. Unlike his father, he opted not to pursue higher education and instead became a clerk. He also joined the Phoenix Fire Engine Company No. 4, one of nine local organizations.
In the wake of Sumter, Pickands’ two older brothers enlisted in the First Ohio Infantry. One of them, James, was the foreman of the Phoenix Company.
Pickands initially stayed behind with other firemen who elected not to join the army.
His brothers returned home after their three-month term of enlistment expired in the summer of 1861. Meanwhile, local recruiters had begun to raise volunteers for new military companies, including Battery K of the First Ohio Light Artillery.
Pickands mustered in to the battery on February 1, 1862. He was one of the last of the original members to join the company — and one of its first casualties.
Pickands died on March 25, 1862. Medical officials listed his cause of death as rheumatism, which may suggest he succumbed to a heart defect that resulted from rheumatic fever. He made it as far as Parkersburg, Virginia, during his seven weeks in uniform and saw no enemy action.
James traveled from Cleveland to bring the body of his little brother home. A large group of family and friends turned out for the funeral. The Phoenix Fire Engine Company attended en masse, dressed in civilian clothes.
The fireman had held a meeting the night before the funeral and adopted a series of resolutions to honor their stricken comrade. “The respect we entertain for him, and his efficiency as a member, and his kind and social qualities, have endeared him to us as a brother,” noted the preamble to the document. The resolutions included wearing mourning badges for 30 days, and draping the firehouse to mark the sad occasion.
Battery K went on to participate in numerous engagements, including the Battle of Gettysburg, where it suffered the loss of two cannon during the first day of fighting.
Pickands’ brothers rejoined the army. They advanced to senior staff positions in Buckeye State infantry regiments and survived the war.
 Cleveland Daily Plain Dealer, November 20, 1861.
 From a paper titled “The Capture of Alexandria and Death of Ellsworth” read by Edward B. Knox on March 4, 1885, to the Commandery of the State of Illinois, Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States. MOLLUS, Military Essays and Recollections, Vol. 2, pp. 9–19.
 Cleveland Daily Plain Dealer, April 25, 1861.
 James Dinsmore Pickands (1802–1876) graduated from Princeton in 1825.
 Older brothers James Pickands (1839–1896) and Henry S. Pickands (1834–1901) belonged to the Cleveland Grays, a militia unit that became Company E of the First Ohio Infantry. James later served in the Eighty-fourth and 124th Ohio Infantries. He ended his war service as lieutenant colonel in the latter regiment. Henry reentered the army as a first lieutenant in the 103rd Ohio Infantry and ended the war as the major of the regiment.
 Samuel J. Pickands military service record, NARS.
 Cleveland Daily Plain Dealer, March 31, 1862.
 Ibid; April 1, 1862.
 Report of Capt. Lewis Heckman, Battery K, First Ohio Light Artillery. OR, I, XXVII, 1: 755.
Ron Coddington is a collector of Civil War era images, and the editor and publisher of Military Images magazine. He is the author of three books about Civil War soldiers and their stories. His next book will profile men who served in the Union and Confederate navies. Visit facesofwar.com for more information and a complete index of past columns. Follow Ron on Facebook and Twitter.
This profile originally appeared in the April 2012 issue of the Civil War News.