Leonard Wood (1860-1927), American Army officer and colonial administrator, was an ardent advocate of military preparedness.
A doctor's son, Leonard Wood was born in Winchester, N.H., on Oct. 9, 1860. After graduating from Harvard Medical School in 1884, he joined the Army Medical Corps as a contract surgeon. While advancing to the grade of captain, which he reached in 1891, he proved himself an effective troop leader in the West and won the friendship of influential generals and politicians. Stationed in Washington after 1895, he was part of the White House inner circle of presidents Grover Cleveland and William McKinley and made friends in 1897 with Assistant Secretary of the Navy Theodore Roosevelt.
When the Spanish-American War began in 1898, Wood and Roosevelt raised the famous "Rough Riders." As colonel of the regiment, Wood permanently left the Medical Corps for troop command. After participating in the Santiago de Cuba campaign, he was commissioned a brigadier general of volunteers in July 1898. In October he was appointed governor of Santiago Province, the first Cuban province to fall under United States control. Physically tireless, an inspiration to his staff, at once overawing the Cubans and winning their loyalty, Wood relieved suffering and restored order. As military governor of Cuba from 1899 to 1902, he repeated these achievements on a larger scale while preparing the island for independence. Wood advanced to the permanent grade of brigadier general in 1901 and to major general in 1903.
Wood served in administrative capacities in the Philippines and in the United States until 1910, when he was made Army chief of staff. He used his four-year term to assert power over the War Department bureaus, reorganize the Regular Army for greater wartime effectiveness, and launch a program of citizens' military-training summer camps. The camps constituted a step toward Wood's ultimate goal—universal military training, which to him meant schooling in patriotism and community service as well as in the use of arms. From 1914 to 1917 he was commander of the Department of the East. He spoke and wrote constantly about universal service and preparedness during America's years of neutrality early in World War I. Associating openly with Republican critics of Woodrow Wilson's administration, he went beyond the bounds of proper military conduct in advocating defense policies. In retaliation, the administration kept him from the front when the United States entered the war in 1917.
As political heir of Theodore Roosevelt, Wood made a strong bid for the Republican presidential nomination in 1920 but lost to Warren G. Harding. Wood was appointed governor of the Philippines by Harding in 1921 and served there until his death on Aug. 7, 1927.
The standard if excessively laudatory biography of Wood is Hermann Hagedorn, Leonard Wood (1931). For Wood's work in Cuba see David F. Healy, The United States in Cuba, 1898-1902 (1963). Samuel P. Huntington, The Soldier and the State (1957), discusses Wood's military theories and political activities.
Chapman, Ronald Fettes, Leonard Wood and leprosy in the Philippines: the Culion Leper Colony, 1921-1927, Washington, D.C.: University Press of America, 1982.
Lane, Jack C., Armed progressive: a study of the military and public career of Leonard Wood, San Rafael, Calif.: Presidio Press, 1978. □
Wood sought to modernize the U.S. Army. As chief of staff (1910–14), he worked to break the authority of the War Department bureau system, to reform the General Staff, and to reorganize the field army. He also encouraged the formation of the Army League, a supportive group of business, foreign policy, and education elites. After war broke out in Europe in 1914, Wood became, with former President Theodore Roosevelt, one of the chief architects of the “Preparedness” movement, advocating compulsory, short‐term military training for all able‐bodied young men, as well as reserve officer training to prepare a mass reserve army. Wood's highly visible role in the controversial Republican‐led campaign to drum up popular support for military preparedness did little to endear him to Democratic President Woodrow Wilson. Established as a partisan figure, the army's senior general spent the period of U.S. involvement training recruits in Kansas.
Resentment at having been denied command in France during World War I pushed Wood further into politics. Afterward, he claimed Roosevelt's mantle as leader of the Republican Party's progressive wing, yet also ran a “law and order” campaign for the presidential nomination in 1920 while on active duty. The convention chose Senator Warren Harding, who after election sent Wood to the Philippines as governor general, a position that he held until his death from a brain tumor.
Wood's restless energy and monumental ambition made him an innovator who adapted the progressive spirit of the age to military affairs. He was also a maverick, ruthlessly attacking anything that thwarted his ambitions, and exempting himself from traditional strictures excluding professional soldiers from politics.
[See also Army, U.S.: 1900–41; Philippine War.]
Andrew J. Bacevich