WILLIAM C. LEE was one of the original members of the Camden Fire Department, entering service on September 2, 1869 as as extra man of the Hook & Ladder Company, the original designation of what is now Ladder Company 1. Prior to entering the fire department he worked as a pork butcher. William C. Lee was living at 409 Federal Street when he joined the department in the fall of 1869.

William C. Lee was born in Pennsylvania around 1844, the son of Thomas McKane Lee and his wife Eliza. The family had moved to Camden's Middle Ward by the spring of 1850.

It is unclear as to where William C. Lee was when the Census was taken in 1860. However, when the Civil War broke out in April of 1871, William C. Lee and three of his brothers, Richard H. Lee, Thomas McKane Lee Jr., and Joseph Lee, answered their nation's call. William C. Lee enlisted in Company F, New Jersey 4th Infantry Regiment on April 27, 1861.

The Fourth Regiment--Militia, was commanded by Colonel Matthew Miller, Jr., serving under him were Lieutenant Colonel Simpson R. Stroud and Major Robert C. Johnson. This regiment was mustered into the U. S. service at Trenton, April 27, 1861, to serve for three months, and left the state for Washington, D. C., on May 3, with 37 commissioned officers and 743 non-commissioned officers and privates, a total of 777. On the evening of May 5 it reached the capital, and on the 9th it was ordered to go into camp at Meridian hill, where, within a few days the entire brigade was encamped, and where, on the 12th, it was honored by a visit from the president, who warmly complimented the appearance of the troops. On the evening of May 23 it joined the 2nd and 3d regiments and about midnight took up the line of march in silence for the bridge that spanned the Potomac. This bridge was crossed at 2 o'clock on the morning of the 24th, the 2nd was posted at Roach's spring, and the 3d and 4th about half a mile beyond on the Alexandria 
road. On July 16, a guard was detailed from the 4th for a section of the Orange & Alexandria railroad, which it was important to hold; one company from the regiment guarded the Long bridge; still another was on duty at Arlington mills; and the remainder of the regiment, together with the 2nd, was ordered to proceed to Alexandria. On July 24, the term of service having expired, the 4th returned to New Jersey and was mustered out at Trenton, July 31, 1861. The total strength of the regiment was 783, and it lost by discharge 6, by promotion 2, by death 2 and by desertion 7, mustered out, 766.

William C. Lee was among those who mustered out with Company F, Fourth Infantry Regiment New Jersey on July 31, 1861 at Trenton, NJ. After a short stay in New Jersey, on August 29, 1861 William C. Lee re-enlisted in Company I, New Jersey 6th Infantry Regiment.

The Sixth New Jersey Infantry, suring its three years of service was commanded by Colonels James T. Hatfield, Gershom Mott, and George C. Burling. This regiment was organized under the provisions of an act of Congress, approved July 22, 1861, and was fully organized, equipped and officered by August 19, at which time it was mustered into the U. S. service at Camp Olden, Trenton, for three years. It left the state on September 10, with 38 officers, 860 non-commissioned officers and privates, a total of 898. 

Upon arrival at Washington the regiment went into camp at Meridian Hill, and remained there until the early part of December, at which time it was ordered to report to General Joseph Hooker, near Budd's Ferry, Maryland, where it was brigaded with the 5th, 7th and 8th New Jersey regiments, composing what was generally known as the Second New Jersey brigade, the Third brigade, Hooker's division. 

On May 5, 1862 at the battle of Williamsburg, Virginia, the brigade was sent into the left of a road and occupied a wood in front of a line of field-works. Among the killed was Lieutenant Colonel John P. Van Leer, and among the wounded were a large number of officers. On May 6, 1862 William C. Lee was promoted to Full Sergeant. 

At the battle of Fair Oaks the Fifth and Sixth moved forward under Colonel Starr, cutting their way through a mass of panic-stricken fugitives, the loss of the 6th being 7 killed and 14 wounded. The next morning the two regiments advanced and occupied the ground recovered from the enemy, where they remained until June 25, being almost constantly on duty at the front. In the combat at Savage Station, the New Jersey brigade was not directly engaged, but the Sixth regiment had 2 men wounded by shells. At Bristoe Station Colonel Mott was badly wounded in the fore-arm, and in the series of engagements, ending at Chantilly on September 1, 1862, the regiment suffered a total loss of 104 men. Going into camp at Alexandria, the brigade remained undisturbed until November 1 when, Lee having been driven from Maryland, it proceeded towards Bristoe Station, where it arrived on the November 4, the Fifth and Sixth regiments being in advance. 

For the Chancellorsville affair in the spring of 1863, the New Jersey brigade, which at that time included the 2nd New York and 115th Penn. regiments, as well as the Fifth, Sixth, Seventh and Eighth New Jersey, all under command of General Mott, crossed the Rappahannock on Friday, May 1. The losses of the Sixth during the engagement amounted to 6 killed, 59 wounded and 8 missing, Colonel Burling being among the wounded. 

At the time of the battle of Gettysburg the 115th Pennsylvania and Second New Hampshire regiments were attached to the brigade, which was under the command of Colonel Burling, General Mott not having recovered from his wound received at Chancellorsville. 

At the battle of the Wilderness, at 5 o'clock in the morning of the second day, six regiments of the brigade advanced, the Fifth, Sixth and Eleventh N. J. being placed under Colonel William J. Sewell. In the assault at Spottsylvania the brigade was in the front line, the Sixth acting as skirmishers. The 
total losses of the regiment during the months of May and June, 1864, amounted to 16 killed, 99 wounded, 8 missing. In August and September, 1864, a large number of recruits were forwarded to the regiment, and with those who had reenlisted and those whose term of service had not expired, were assigned to what was known as Companies A, B and C, 6th battalion, until October 12, 1864, at which time they were transferred to and consolidated with the Eighth New Jersey regiment. By reason of such transfer the Sixth regiment as an organization ceased to exist. The total strength of the regiment was 1,485, and it lost, by resignation 26, by discharge 364, by promotion 53, by transfer 314, by death 180, by desertion 209, by dismissal 3, not accounted for 157, and 179 were mustered out at the end of the regiment's term of service.

Sergeant Lee was among those who mustered out of the Sixth New Jersey Regiment on October 12, 1864.
Sergeant Lee, along with Private John J. Olden, was among those who reenlisted. They both were transferred to Company F, New Jersey 8th Infantry Regiment on October 12, 1864. 

The Eighth New Jersey resumed operations shortly thereafter. The regiment fought on October 27, 1864 at Boydton Plank Road, VA, and engaged the enemy on five separate occasions in November at Petersburg before going into winter quarters. The 8th New Jersey fought on February 5 and 6 at Hatcher's Run, Virginia. On March 25 at Petersburg, again at Hatcher's Run on March 31, and a final skirmish at Boydton Plank Road on April 2. The Eighth New Jersey saw its final combat on April 6, 1865 at Farmville, Virginia.

William C. Lee was promoted to Full Second Lieutenant on June 24, 1865. He mustered out of Company F, Eighth New Jersey Infantry on July 17, 1865 at Washington, D.C. 

On September 2, 1869 City Council enacted a municipal ordinance creating a paid fire department. It provided for the annual appointment of five Fire Commissioners, one Chief Marshal (Chief of Department) and two Assistant Marshals. The City was also divided into two fire districts. The boundary line ran east and west, starting at Bridge Avenue and following the tracks of the Camden and Amboy Railroad to the city limits. District 1 was south of this line and District 2 was north. The commissioners also appointed the firemen who were scheduled to work six 24 hour tours per week. William Abels, from the Weccacoe Hose Company No. 2 was appointed Chief Marshal with William J. Mines, from the Independence Fire Company No. 3 as Assistant Marshal for the 1st District, and William H. Shearman as the Assistant Marshal for the 2nd District. Abels had served with the volunteer fire departments of Philadelphia, Mobile, Alabama and Camden for sixteen years prior to his appointment as Chief of the paid force.

On November 10, 1869 City Council purchased the Independence Firehouse, the three-story brick building at 409 Pine Street, for $4500. The building was designated to serve as quarters for Engine Company 1 and the 1st District. On October 29, 1869 City Council authorized construction of a two-story brick building on the northwest corner of Fifth and Arch Streets as quarters for the 2nd District. On November 25th the Fire Commissioners signed a contract with M.N. Dubois in the amount of $3100 to erect this structure. The 2nd District would share these quarters with Engine Company 2 and the Hook & Ladder Company and the facility would also serve as department headquarters for the new paid force. The original contract remains part of the Camden County Historical Society collection. 

Engine Company 2 with 1869 Silsby Hose Cart. Photo Circa 1890. Note badges upon derby hats worn by Fire Fighters.  

Two Amoskeag second class, double pump, straight frame steam engines were purchased at a cost of $4250 each. Two Silsby two wheel hose carts, each of which carried 1000 feet of hose, were another $550 each and the hook & ladder, built by Schanz and Brother of Philadelphia was $900. Each engine company received a steam engine and hose cart. Amoskeag serial #318 went to Engine Company 1, and serial #319 to Engine Company 2. The Fire Commission also secured the services of the Weccacoe and Independence steamers in case of fire prior to delivery of the new apparatus. Alfred McCully of Camden made the harnesses for the horses. Camden's Twoes & Jones made the overcoats for the new firemen and a Mr. Morley, also of Camden, supplied the caps and belts which were manufactured by the Migeod Company of Philadelphia. The new members were also issued badges.

This is the earliest known photo of fire headquarters on the northwest corner of Fifth and Arch Streets. Originally built in 1869, the building shows signs of wear some twenty years later. Note the weathervane shaped like a fireman's speaking trumpet atop the tower. Also, the fire alarm bell is pictured to the left of the telegraph pole above the rooftop. The bell was removed from the building once the fire alarm telegraph system was expanded and in good working order.  


This maker's plate once was attached to a harness made by A. McCully & Sons, 22 Market Street, Camden, New Jersey. This firm provided the first harnesses for the paid fire department in 1869.  

Badges worn by the marshals, engineers, stokers and engine drivers bore the initial letter of their respective positions and their district number. The tillerman and his driver used the number "3" to accompany their initial letter. The extra men of the 1st District were assigned badges 1-10; 2nd District badges were numbered 11-20 and the extra men of the hook & ladder wore numbers 21-30.

Although the Fire Commission intended to begin operation of the paid department on November 20, 1869, the companies did not actually enter service until December 7th at 6 P.M. because the new apparatus and buildings were not ready. The new apparatus was not tried (tested) until December 9th.

The new members of the paid force were:            

Hook & Ladder Company

Edward J. Dodamead, Tillerman; Frank S. Jones, Driver

Extra Men

Charles Baldwin 

Badge #21

Charles G. Zimmerman 

Badge #22

John Durkin 

Badge #23

William C. Lee 

Badge #24

James M. Lane 

Badge #25

James Cassidy 

Badge #26

Robert S. Bender   

Badge #27

Thomas McCowan   

Badge #28

Howard Lee                             

Badge #29

Abraham Lower             

Badge #30

William C. Lee and Howard Lee were brothers. Robert S. Bender and Thomas McCowan were brothers-in-law. Abraham Lower and Assistant Chief Engineer William H. Shearman were brother-in-law, Charles G. Zimmerman and his brother Theodore A. Zimmerman, also a charter member of the Camden Fire Department, were brothers-in-law of Chief William Abels.

The first style of breast badge worn by members of the career department in the City of Camden. 1869. (Courtesy of the C.C.H.S. Collection).


The Board of Fire Commissioners consisted of Rudolphus Bingham, Chairman and Samuel C. Harbert, Richard Perks, Jonathon Kirkbride and Jacob Daubman.

Leather helmet of natural grain believed to have been worn by Fireman Charles Baldwin, Hook & Ladder Company 1 when paid force was organized in 1869. Number 21 at bottom of frontpiece indicates member's badge number. (Courtesy of the Camden County Historical Society Collection.)

Annual salaries for the members of the paid force were: Chief Marshal, $800; Assistant Marshal, $200; Engineer, $600; Driver, $450; Stoker, $450; Tillerman, $450; Extra Men, $50. All but Extra Men were paid monthly.

The 1870 Census shows William C. Lee living in Camden's Middle Ward with his wife Camilla, daughter Jessie, and mother-in-law Mercy Bates. Two doors away live the Grosscup family, their son Henry Grosscup would have a long and illustrious career with the Camden Fire Department.

William C. Lee resigned from the Camden Fire Department on April 19, 1872. William C. Lee returned to the Camden Fire Department in October of 1873 as an extra man with Engine Company 2 when Alfred Ivins transferred to Engine Company 1. He served until May of 1874. He returned on November 26, 1877 as an extra man with the Hook & Ladder Company, replacing Francis Turner. He served until April of 1882.

William C. Lee was living at 29 Wood Street and working as an iron moulder when the 1878 Camden City Directory was compiled. The 1880 Census shows William C. Lee and his wife, the former Camilla Bates and their four children, Lydia, Lollie, Joseph, and Clarence, and his mother-in-law Mercy Bates living at 29 Wood Street in North Camden.

The family apparently moved around a lot in the 1880s and it is unclear as to the multiplicity of those named "William Lee" in the Camden City Directories as to exactly who was where and doing what. A William C. Lee is named in the 1887-1888 Camden City Directory as living at 818 Kimber Street and working as the engineer, that is, the boiler operator, at Camden's City Hall. The 1888-1889 Directory has William C. Lee at 818 Kimber Street with an occupation stated as farmer. He was still working as a farmer in 1890, but had moved to 335 North 9th Street by mid-year.

The 1892-1893 and 1893-1894 City Directories have William C. Lee working as a constable at City Hall, and living at 335 North 9th Street. The 1894-1895 Directory lists Camilla Lee as widow of William C. Lee at 335 North 9th Street. Her sons, Clarence and Joseph, both weavers at Camden Woolen Mills, were living with her at 335 North 9th Street when the Directory was compiled. Mrs. Lee was approved for her Civil War widow's pension in March of 1894.

Of William C. Lee's family, a number were active in Camden's civic life over the years. His brother Richard H. Lee served as Postmaster of Camden for sixteen years and was active in the Sixth Regiment of the New Jersey National Guard, which he commanded for a time. Older brother Thomas M.K. Lee Jr. was elected, in 1865, as county clerk, and held the position for five years. He died December 10, 1873, aged thirty-seven years, and was buried in Evergreen Cemetery. His name lived on in Camden for many years after, as in January of 1876, a Grand Army of the Republic Post was organized in Camden. At the first meeting of the new post, it was unanimously decided to honor Captain Lee by adopting the name Thomas M.K. Lee Post. The Thomas M.K. Lee Post No. 5, was active in Camden well into the next century. 


Camden Democrat * September 28, 1872
Abraham Lower - James M. Cassady - John Sands - Howard Lee - Thomas M.K. Lee - Samuel M. Gaul
William Lee - Boston Peter - Michael Kelly - William Osburn - George Gilbert - Josiah S. Hackett
 George Goetz - Goetz's Hotel - 336
Plum (Arch) Street

Philadelphia Inquirer
June 10, 1889

Richard H. Lee
Joseph C. Lee
Thomas M.K. Lee
William C. Lee
Ulie G. Lee
South 6th Street
Clinton Street