commander of the "Rough Riders," Military Governor of Cuba, Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army, Governor General of the Philippines
Leonard Wood was born in Winchester, New Hampshire, on October 9, 1860. He attended the local schools and then the Pierce Academy in Middleboro, Massachusetts, before going on to Harvard Medical School. He received his Doctor of Medicine degree after doing an internship at Boston City Hospital, in 1884.
In 1885, Wood got an interim appointment as a contract surgeon with the U.S. Army. In 1886, he was appointed assistant surgeon in the regular Army and sent to Fort Huachuca in Arizona, where he served as a medical and provisional troop officer in the final operations against the Apache. In 1888 he was awarded the Medal of Honor for carrying dispatches 100 miles through hostile territory and for commanding an infantry detachment whose officers had been lost. He subsequently served as a staff surgeon at department headquarters in Los Angeles, and was promoted to Captain in January of 1891 In 1895, Wood was assigned to the Washington, D.C., headquarters as assistant attending surgeon, in which capacity he was responsible for the care of senior government officials.
When the Spanish-American War broke out, Wood, along with good friend Theodore Roosevelt, organized the 1st Volunteer Cavalry (the "Rough Riders"), of which Wood was appointed commander with the rank of Colonel. In June of 1898, the Rough Riders took part in the successful campaign against Santiago, Cuba. For his part in the campaign, Wood was promoted to Brigadier General of the Volunteers in July, and to Major General of the Volunteers in December. From 1898 to 1902 he served successively as Military Governor of the City of Santiago, of Santiago Province, and of Cuba. In the latter position, Wood prepared Cuba for independence. He built roads and schools, and helped stamp out yellow fever by cleaning up swamps and mosquito-ridden areas. He was made Brigadier General of the regular army in February 1901.
In August of 1903 Wood was promoted to Major General and sent to the Philippines, where he served as Governor of Moro Province until 1906. In this capacity he personally fought against the Moros during the Philippine Insurrection of 1904. He subsequently commanded the Philippines Division (1906-1908) and the Department of the East (1908-1910). In 1910 he served as Special Ambassador to Argentina for its centennial celebration.
Wood was named Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army by President William Taft on April 22, 1910, and served in that capacity until April 20, 1914. During his tenure he established an officer training camp at Plattsburg, New York (a predecessor of the ROTC program), and streamlined Army staff and administrative procedures. A staunch advocate of national preparedness, he also pressed for increases in officer strength.
Wood resigned as Chief of Staff soon after World War I broke out in Europe, believing that the United States would ultimately be drawn into the conflict and hoping for command of any troops sent overseas. In the interim, he was placed in command of the Department of the East, in which capacity he served until 1917. When the United States formally entered the war in 1917, command of U.S. forces was given to General John J. Pershing, and Wood was placed in charge of the newly organized Southern Department. Rather than being sent overseas, he subsequently served as commander of the 89th Division and Camp Funston, and trained the 10th Division at Camp Funston.
Wood was a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination in 1920, but failed to garner any real popular support and never again ran for political office. He retired from active military service in October of 1921, but served as Governor General of the Philippines from 1921 to 1927.
In 1927, Wood returned to the United States in order to seek medical treatment for a tumor resulting from an earlier head injury. He died on the operating table in a Boston hospital on August 7, 1927, and was interred in Arlington National Cemetery.
General Leonard Wood was the author of two books: The Military Obligation of Citizenship (1915) and Our Military History (1916). Fort Leonard Wood, in Missouri, home of the U.S. Army Combat Engineer School, Chemical School, and Military Police School, was named in his honor.
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This page was last updated on 01/28/2014.