Wood, Leonard

Leonard Wood (1860-1927) was a physician by training, a career military officer, and a friend of Theodore Roosevelt’s.

Wood was the son of Caroline E. Hagar and Charles Jewett Wood. Born in New Hampshire only months before the Civil War began, he grew up wanting to be a soldier. He bowed to his parents’ wishes and studied instead at Harvard Medical School, graduating in 1884. After his father’s death, Wood pursued his childhood dream and became a First Lieutenant in the Medical Corp of the U.S. Army. Wood won the Congressional Medal of Honor during the Indian Wars and quickly earned promotion to Captain. His next posting took him to Washington, D.C., where he served as personal physician to Presidents Grover Cleveland and William McKinley and became friends with Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Theodore Roosevelt. Besides their Harvard connection, Wood and Roosevelt shared an interest in football, hiking, singlestick fighting, the U.S. military, and an assertive foreign policy.

Their friendship deepened when the two organized the Rough Riders, which Wood commanded in Cuba. After the war ended, he served as Military Governor of Santiago (1899-1902) and used his medical knowledge to improve sanitation there. He was promoted to Brigadier General of the Regular Army in 1902 and to Major General in 1903. He commanded the Philippine Division during the Philippine-American War. Wood’s leadership experience deepened during his time as Governor of Moro Province (1903-1906) where Filipinos continued sporadic fighting against the American forces. Although Wood abolished slavery and improved Moro’s economy, infrastructure, and leper colony, he was criticized broadly for over-zealous punishment of lawbreakers and the deaths of Moro civilians during the engagement between the 6th Infantry Regiment and the Moros at Bud Dajo. Roosevelt had become president in 1901, and Wood stayed in close contact with Roosevelt concerning issues in the Philippines.

In 1908, Wood returned to the U.S. to take command of the Army’s Department of the East. He became the youngest Army Chief of Staff in April 1910. Like Roosevelt, Wood believed strongly in the importance of national preparedness and the two publically supported the Plattsburg movement, a plan to raise volunteers for World War I, already underway in Europe. In 1915, Wood published The Military Obligation of Citizenship, laying out his convictions on the topic. He returned to his position in the Eastern Department from 1914 through 1917. During America’s involvement in World War I, Wood wanted to join the battle in Europe. Instead, he trained soldiers at Camp Funston, in Kansas.

Wood was among those who eulogized Theodore Roosevelt in January 1919, stating that Roosevelt feared only one thing: “that he would not perform his whole duty.” Before his death, Roosevelt had convinced Wood to attempt the 1920 Republican Party presidential nomination. Wood won New Hampshire, but the GOP gave Warren G. Harding the nod. Leonard Wood retired from the Army in 1921 and returned to the Philippines to serve as civilian Governor until his death in 1927. He was survived by his wife Laura Condit Smith Wood (m. 1890) and their three children. Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri bears his name today. An eponymously named naval ship was in commission from 1921 until 1948. There are schools and roads named for Leonard Wood in the Philippines, as well.