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Odd Wisconsin Archive

Janesville Boy Memorialized At Honolulu

When Tom Ruger was growing up in Rock Co., he could never have imagined that his name would be enshrined atop Hawaii's most famous peak.

Ruger (1833-1907) arrived in Wisconsin from New York in 1854, and as a teenager went back to West Point for schooling. After a year he resigned his commision, studied law back in Janesville, and opened shop as an attorney in 1857. But when the Civil War broke out, he promptly offered his services and quickly took command of the Third Wisconsin Infantry, rising during the war from colonel to brigadier general. At Antietam, on Sept. 17, 1862, he dismounted from his horse and personally led the troops on foot into the heat of battle, continuing to give orders even after being shot. He led two divisions at Gettysburg, and marched with Sherman across the South. In July of 1863 he suppressed the New York City Draft Riots, when working-class white residents who were against the war targeted African-Americans, lynching 11 and burning down an orphanage for black children.

When the Wisconsin volunteers disbanded at the end of the war, General Ruger entered the regular Army. He did not return to Wisconsin, but held a variety of posts around the U.S. including, from 1871 to 1876, superintendent of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. In 1897 he retired to Stamford, Conn., where he died ten years later.

Just after Ruger retired, the U.S. annexed Hawaii, 5,000 miles away in the Pacific Ocean. Following the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05, American military leaders decided its main harbor needed better protection. So in 1906 they purchased Diamond Head, a few miles from Honolulu's Pearl Harbor. There they built a fortress on the peak that would become the symbol of Hawaii's tourism industry. That fort, which had artillery hidden within the mountain's volcanic crater and miles of underground passageways, they named after General Thomas H. Ruger of Janesville, following his death in 1906. Remains of the fort still exist, and are visited by thousands of tourists each year.

:: Posted in Curiosities on May 1, 2006

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