Roosevelt's Contemporaries: Leonard Wood

Jan 30, 2014

A close friend of Theodore Roosevelt, Medal of Honor recipient, presidential candidate, and colonial administrator, Leonard Wood was born on October 9, 1860, in Winchester, New Hampshire. He followed his father into the world of medicine and graduated with an M.D. from Harvard Medical School in 1884. An unsuccessful medical practice in Boston led Wood to join the Army Medical Department in 1885. He was stationed to the Department of Arizona and was selected to receive the Medal of Honor for carrying dispatches during the campaign that forced Geronimo’s surrender. His award was controversial as no regular officer was similarly awarded. Wood came to the attention of prominent benefactors while working as surgeon general at the War Department. He served as physician to multiple cabinet members and to Ida Saxton McKinley, President McKinley’s wife, who suffered from epileptic seizures.

Wood developed a friendship with Theodore Roosevelt, who was then serving as Assistant Secretary of the Navy, and after the outbreak of the Spanish-American War they worked to enter the conflict by securing the command of the First Volunteer Cavalry Regiment. The regiment might have become popularly known as Roosevelt’s Rough Riders, but Roosevelt wisely deferred command to his more experienced colleague. Their wartime exploits sent Roosevelt on a path toward the presidency, but Wood stayed in Cuba after the war as an administrator. He became military governor of the island in December 1899 and instituted a variety of successful reforms, including the funding of experiments that identified the cause of yellow fever (mosquitoes).

In 1902, Wood received a regular army commission as brigadier general and was appointed military governor of Moro Province in the Philippines, the center of a Muslim insurrection against American rule. Wood attempted to subdue the Moros and led several expeditions against them, including a notorious 1906 battle at Mount Dajo that left 600 Moros dead and was described in the press as a massacre. President Roosevelt’s support was key in overcoming the subsequent outcry. Wood became chief of staff of the army in 1910 and helped consolidate long delayed progressive army reforms. He helped establish the general staff system and laid the groundwork for a more efficient administration.

Wood left the office of chief of staff in 1914. After the outbreak of the First World War, he spoke out in favor of military preparedness, a cause that once again allied him with Roosevelt. He also helped with the creation of the Plattsburg Camps, a summer training program for civilians. All of Roosevelt’s sons attended the camps. Wood’s outspokenness brought him a public following but angered the Wilson administration which favored neutrality. After the United States entered the war, Wood was kept out of the European theatre. In 1920, Wood attempted to turn the credit he received for his preparedness foresight and his supposed partisan maltreatment by the Wilson administration into the Republican presidential nomination. Warren Harding won the nomination as the compromise candidate of a stalemated convention. Wood would end his career back in the Philippines as Governor General, where he struggled to reassert the authority of the governor general against nationalist Filipino aspirations. Leonard Wood passed away on August 7, 1927, after undergoing surgery to remove a brain tumor.


Lane, Jack C. “Wood, Leonard.” American National Biography. Eds. John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes. Vol. 23. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999. Print.

"Wood, Leonard (1860–1927)." Encyclopedia of Cuban-United States Relations. Jefferson: McFarland, 2010. Credo Reference. 10 May 2012. Web. 

Posted by Grant Carlson on Jan 30, 2014 in History  |  Permalink  |  Comments (0)  |  Share this post

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