John W. “Tom” Hommel

Captain, Company A, Third Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry

(December 30, 1852 - January 31, 1927)
By Great Grandson James K. Maguire
General:

John Hommel served as captain of Company A of the 3rd Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry during the Spanish American War and served with the unit in Puerto Rico. Hommel eventually retired from military service as a colonel in the Wisconsin National Guard.

Biography:

John W. “Tom” Hommel, as a small child, moved with his parents to La Crosse County, Wisconsin from his place of birth on Long Island, New York. In about 1869, when he was 17 years old, Hommel moved to Clark County and worked as a blacksmith at Straffordville.  Later he worked this trade at lumber camps and eventually established a shop in Neillsville. He was an expert at his trade and possessed mechanical genius, quickly gaining a working knowledge of plumbing and other trades.

After a series of fires in Neillsville in 1875, a fire department was organized.  Three companies were to be organized but only the Hook and Ladder Company with twenty to thirty men and “Tom” Hommel as Captain was actually organized.  The Fire Company erected a place of amusement in 1876 called the “Fireman's Hall,” which, in 1885, was relocated to Fourth Street and renamed the “Fourth Street Theater.”  Eventually owned by Hommel and five associates, the theater had a capacity of six hundred people and featured electric lights.

Soon after the city of Neillsville was incorporated in 1883, Hommel was appointed City Marshal  (Chief of Police) and also Street Commissioner. During this period the first paved streets and first water and sewer system were provided to the community.

Hommel enlisted in Company A of the Third Wisconsin National Guard on March 22, 1882. He served as a second lieutenant and was later successively promoted to first lieutenant on November 14, 1887 and Captain on May 22, 1891.  At the start of the Spanish American War, Company A formed at Camp Harvey, Wisconsin.  The unit was mustered into state service on April 28, 1898 and then into federal service on May 11 as Company A of the Third Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry.  A short time later the regiment left for Camp Thomas, Georgia. The camp was located on the grounds of the Civil War battlefield of Chickamauga. Notoriously unhealthy, the camp had poor sanitation and inadequately facilities for the large number of troops gathered there. The unit departed on July 18th for service in the Santiago, Cuba campaign. At Charleston, South Carolina the men were placed aboard transports GRAND DUCHESS and OBDAM and taken instead to Ponce, Puerto Rico to join in the invasion of that island. The unit was part of Major General James H. Wilson's 1st Division of the First Army Corps. The Third Wisconsin saw action at Coamo. During its service, the company suffered from disease, such as malaria, yellow fever and typhoid fever, as was typical of the troops serving in the tropical environment. The unit, however, lost no men to the action against the enemy but did lose three men to disease. Four others would die in later years from diseases caught in Puerto Rico, a remarkably low number.

Captain Hommel served as Provost Marshal at Coamo and later as U.S. Commissioner in charge of property in Cedra and Cayey.  Presumably in these same locations, he was responsible for taking control of Spanish property for the U.S. as they were abandoned by the Spanish as part of the surrender agreement.  According to family tradition, when he left Puerto Rico, the mayor of the town he was then serving in presented him with an ancient sword that had been used by the Spanish against the British.

The company returned to Neillsville on October 31, 1898 and was promptly furloughed until January 4, 1899, when it was mustered out of federal service.  Company A or the Wisconsin National Guard was reorganized on May 5, 1899 and “Tom” Hommel was again elected as Captain.  After the entire 3rd Wisconsin National Guard Regiment was reorganized, he was appointed Major commanding the 3rd Battalion on June 12, 1899.

While in Puerto Rico, he befriended a boy who became the mascot of Regiment.  With the boy's parents’ permission, Hommel brought the boy home to Neillsville and adopted him.  His name was Placido Ramos Vasquez.  He became a doctor and practiced medicine in Elkader, Iowa and served in the Army during World War One.

Hommel was promoted to Lt. Col. In the National Guard on October 1, 1913.  When military action involving Poncho Via occurred on the Mexican border in 1916, Lt. Col. Hommel went with the 3rd Wisconsin National Guard to Texas, serving as the regimental executive officer. His second wife, Ida went with him to San Antonio.  On his retirement from the National Guard on March 24, 1917, he was promoted to colonel.

During World War I, Hommel trained local farm children and clerks in drill and in the use of firearms prior to their joining the army. Tom Hommel continued to serve his community until his death, bettering the parks for the children of Neillsville.  His granddaughter Jane remembered him leading a crew of men who made and installed playground equipment.

Earlier in his military career, he had been offered a regular army commission but had to decline it since his wife was quite ill.  His first wife Charlotte Jane Steele died in 1903.  He later married Ida M. Carnegie.

It was said of “Tom Hommel” that he could repair a faucet, arrest a man, put out a fire and lead a grand parade all in the space of an hour.


Bibliography:

Maguire Irma Woelffer, remembrances.
Lind, Jane Woelffer,   remembrances.
The Wisconsin National Guard
Various newspaper articles (reprints in the 1990's of 1880-90's)
Family tree research done by other  family members--DOB etc.
Newspaper obituary


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