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Leonard Wood

Rough Rider, Surgeon, Architect of American Imperialism

Jack McCallum

Publication Year: 2006

One of the most fascinating but least remembered figures in modern American history, Major General Leonard Wood (1860-1927) was, with his close friend Theodore Roosevelt, an icon of U.S. imperialism as the nation evolved into a global power at the dawn of the twentieth century. The myriad of roles that Wood played in his extraordinary career offer a mirror image of the country's expansion from the urban Northeast to the western frontier to Latin America and the Far East. Boston surgeon, Indian fighter, U.S. Army Chief of Staff, Medal of Honor winner, commander of the Rough Riders in the Spanish-American War, Governor General of the Philippines, and presidential candidate, Wood was one of a select cadre of men that transformed the American military at the turn of the century, turning it into a modern fighting force and the nation into a world power.

Throughout his life, Wood tested the division between military and civilian power to its very limits. His 1920 presidential campaign and his conflicts with civilian politicians were harbingers of the struggles that Generals Douglas MacArthur and Dwight D. Eisenhower would face as they moved from the battlefield to Washington following World War II.

Jack McCallum has mined Wood's extensive personal records—including diaries, correspondence, and photographs—to create a vivid portrait of a complex man and the legacy he left on U.S. imperialism. America's rapid conquest of Cuba and the Philippines and the subsequent political and economic reconstruction it imposed under Wood's military supervision in these regions have important parallels to current U.S. involvement in the Middle East, both in its successes and its failures.

Published by: NYU Press


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1. Boston, 1927

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pp. 1-6

AT 9:30 in the morning on August 6, 1927, an orderly wheeled sixty-seven- year-old Leonard Wood into the neurosurgical operating room at Boston’s Peter Bent Brigham Hospital. The general’s brain tumor, operated twice in the previous twenty-two years, had recurred and rendered him paralyzed on the left side and nearly blind. Wood had been a physician, an Indian fighter, a Rough Rider, chief of...

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2. Pocasset, 1860–1880

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pp. 7-9

LEONARD WOOD was born October 9, 1860, in the largest, and by all accounts the ugliest, house in Pocasset, Massachusetts, to Caroline Wood. Her husband, Dr. Charles Jewett Wood, was a dour New England Congregationalist who proudly traced his ancestry to the Mayflower. Charles had taken an apprenticeship...

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3. Boston, 1880–1885

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pp. 10-16

THANKS TO JESSE HASKELL, Len had a bent toward learning, a tendency hampered by his father’s endemic lack of funds. After Charles Wood died, Elijah Perry, his mother’s stepfather, introduced Len to H. H. Hunnewell, a Wellesley businessman who had underwritten the education of other deserving men, and Hunnewell agreed to help. Although the philanthropist typically made...

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4. Fort Huachuca, 1885–1887

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pp. 17-46

WOOD SIGNED his contract as acting assistant surgeon to the United States Army one month after Geronimo broke out of the White Mountain Reservation and ran for the Mexican mountains. Terrified Arizona and New Mexico settlers wanted the Apaches chased down and returned to the reservation; that required...

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5. The Army, 1887–1898

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pp. 47-110

AFTER GERONIMO’S SURRENDER, Miles sent Wood back into Mexico to retrieve a handful of Apaches that had not come in with Geronimo and returned to Los Angeles. In January 1887, the general ordered Wood to California on the thin pretext that his assigned surgeon had arthritis and was useless. The War Department lacked Miles’s enthusiasm for an extra surgeon in Santa Monica and, in May 1887, summarily...

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6. Santiago, 1898–1899

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pp. 111-146

IN MAY OF 1494, Columbus jibed west out of Guantanamo Bay along Cuba’s southeastern coast sailing almost exactly on the twentieth parallel of north latitude. Forty miles along the ironbound coast, a 180-yard gap in the rocks opened into a magnificent bay two miles wide, seven miles deep, and fifteen miles around. It was far and away the best harbor Columbus had seen in the New World and,...

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7. Havana, 1900–1902

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pp. 147-196

DAWN BROKE over Cuba clear and cool on December 20, 1899, as the steamer Mexico finished a “pleasant and uneventful” four-day voyage from New York and entered Havana harbor.1 A launch brought the pilot and an assortment of dignitaries to the ship before it slipped past the imposing Castillo de Los Tres Reyes del Morro (El Moro), the ancient symbol of Cuban nationalism guarding the...

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8. Zamboanga, 1902–1908

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pp. 197-235

From May to July, Wood finished the last details of his Cuban administration, having sent his wife and children to spend the summer in Europe. In July, Root sent three generals—Wood, Corbin, and Young— to observe French and German military maneuvers. During the passage, Wood was accorded the deference ordinarily reserved to a head of state, and his suite boasted its...

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9. Washington,D.C., 1908–1917

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pp. 236-268

IN FEBRUARY 1908, Wood and his family left Manila traveling west. Wood wanted to tour Europe, give his sons a short time in continental schools, and—most important—have a look at the British, French, and German military establishments. The general met with the Kaiser and dined with the Crown Prince, but, although he found the German organization impressive, he thought the French superior. Wood wrote, “If the French soldiers can fight as they march...

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10. Camp Funston, 1917–1920

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pp. 269-285

WOOD WENT to Camp Funston on the Fort Riley Reservation convinced he had been targeted by Wilson, Baker, and the regular army hierarchy including Scott and Bliss and equally sure the British, the French, and the American people wanted him in France. The huge reservation was under a colonel and Wood asked for overall command of the base. Baker had the adjutant...

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11. Manila, 1920–1927

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pp. 286-297

WITHIN WEEKS of the 1920 election, Harding was testing Wood’s willingness to go to the Philippines. One of the president-elect’s functionaries came to Chicago “full of the idea” of Wood going to Manila, but the general thought the Filipinos had been “pretty thoroughly demoralized” by eight years of Democratic supervision and were shot through with unreasonable ideas of independence.1 He also knew Filipino leaders...

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p. 298

WOOD’S DEATH was followed by a predictable flurry of obituaries and—except for two biographies fifty-eight years apart—silence. Today, were it not for an army base that bears his name, we would never hear of Leonard Wood. To explain why a life so varied and so influential should have vanished from the public memory we...


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pp. 299-332


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pp. 333-341


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pp. 343-355

E-ISBN-13: 9780814759806
E-ISBN-10: 0814759807
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814756997
Print-ISBN-10: 0814756999

Page Count: 368
Publication Year: 2006

OCLC Number: 794701103
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Leonard Wood

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Subject Headings

  • United States. Army Biography.
  • Wood, Leonard, 1860-1927.
  • Generals -- United States -- Biography.
  • United States -- Territorial expansion.
  • Philippines -- Politics and government -- 1898-1935.
  • Governors general -- Philippines -- Biography.
  • Spanish-American War, 1898 -- Biography.
  • Military governors -- Cuba -- Biography.
  • Presidential candidates -- United States -- Biography.
  • United States. Army -- Surgeons -- Biography.
  • United States -- History, Military.
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