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  • Leonard Wood: Rough Rider, Surgeon, Architect of American Imperialism
  • Edward M. Coffman
Leonard Wood: Rough Rider, Surgeon, Architect of American Imperialism. By Jack McCallum. New York: New York University Press, 2005. ISBN 0-8147-56999-9. Photographs. Notes. Bibliography. Index. Pp. 355. $34.95.

In the two decades between the Spanish-American War and World War I, Leonard Wood's fame skyrocketed as he led the Rough Riders in battle, then established himself as an oustanding colonial administrator in Cuba and in the Philippines, and, as Chief of Staff, shook up the War Department bureaucracy, and became involved in national politics. Denied command in the American Expeditionary Forces in the First World War, he consoled himself by making a run for the Republican presidential nomination in 1920. In this biography, Dr. McCallum brings his own medical background as well as an objective approach to the task.

With a medical degree from Harvard, Wood joined the Army as a contract doctor in 1885. In the closing days of the Apache wars, his courage, stamina, and willingness to take command of troops as he accompanied a small expedition into Mexico earned him the Medal of Honor. Intelligent, physically tough, and hard working, Wood also possessed a charisma that later attracted many admirers among younger officers and, more significantly, Theodore Roosevelt (TR). When the Spanish War began, he and Roosevelt led the Rough Riders to Cuba. After the surrender, as a brigadier general of volunteers, he was given absolute authority over Santiago where he established order, put sanitary rules into effect, paved the streets, and got the populace on their feet economically within three months. He might show up anywhere at any time to see how his plans were being carried out. A ruthless self-promoter, he soon got his superior deposed—then he governed all of Cuba.

Congress gave him a regular army commission as a brigadier general and, not long after TR became president, Wood received a second star. In the Philippines, as administrator over the Moros, he decided that force was necessary. Accordingly, he authorized and led campaigns that slaughtered virtually [End Page 523] all the inhabitants of recalcitrant villages. By this time, Wood's harsh, dictatorial methods and his obvious arrogance toward the people he ruled had begun to make enemies in the United States. He had already made enemies of nearly all of the older officers who had been senior to him before his meteoric rise in rank. When he became Chief of Staff, he vigorously defended the War Department General Staff against a powerful bureau chief. In this section, as well as the one on the Moros, the author's coverage would have benefited from consulting additional secondary sources.

During World War I, Wood's overt opposition to President Wilson, his lameness, and Pershing's brutally blunt recommendation kept him from command in France. After the failure of his heavily financed run for the Republican presidential nomination in 1920, Wood returned to the Philippines where he wound up his career as an anachronistic colonial administrator. This is a good, balanced biography of a remarkable man who played a significant role not only in the emergence of the United States as a world power but also in the accompanying transformation of the Army.

Edward M. Coffman
Emeritus, University of Wisconsin–Madison
Madison, Wisconsin


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pp. 523-524
Launched on MUSE
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Archived 2010
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