Wood, Leonard

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Wood, Leonard (1860–1927), army officer and colonial administrator.Educated at Harvard and Harvard Medical School, Wood joined the army as a contract surgeon in 1885. Although he entered the line in 1898 as the colonel in command of his friend Theodore Roosevelt's First U.S. Volunteer Cavalry (the “Rough Riders”), Wood was considered an outsider by most career officers. Remaining in Cuba after the Spanish‐American War, Wood, as a brigadier general, was appointed military governor and implemented a program of wide‐ranging progressive reforms. Later, in the Philippines, as governor of the Moro province, he directed the bloody campaign to pacify the Moros. In 1910, President William H. Taft appointed Major General Wood army chief of staff.

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.]


Hermann Hagedorn , Leonard Wood: A Biography, 2 vols., 1931.
Jack C. Lane , Armed Progressive: General Leonard Wood, 1978.

Andrew J. Bacevich