On 22 April 1910, Leonard Wood was named the fifth chief of staff of the U.S. Army, a position established by the reforms of 1903. So incensed were the line Regulars by the naming of a Medical Corps officer to the top command that afterward the possibility of another such appointment was prohibited by Army regulations. The anxiety throughout the ranks about Wood’s ascent was pervasive. Capt. Johnson Hagood, who would later rise to prominence as chief of supply of the American Expeditionary Forces in World War I, was then a staff officer and awaited the arrival of the newcomer with great trepidation: “Was this the Wood I had heard so much about? Was this the soldier of fortune, the pill roller become swashbuckler, the pretender, the usurper, the Rough Rider who trampled over friends and foes; the medicine man with a cure-all for the Army?”
|Wood, Far Left, on the Trail of Geronimo|
After his tenure as chief of staff, Wood resumed his position in command of the Army's Department of the East. There he spoke against the neutralist policies of President Wilson, barely skirting insubordination and incurring the president’s lasting wrath. Wilson later wrote in response to the question of why Wood was never sent to France: "Wherever Gen. Wood goes, there is controversy and conflict of judgment. I have a great deal of experience with Gen. Wood. He is a man of unusual ability, but apparently unable to submit his judgment to those who are superior in command. embarking on a path fraught with professional dangers and one almost never trod by active duty soldiers."
|Wood on Right with His Assistant Rough Rider Commander, |
■ Wood’s health. The effects from his head injury had grown noticeably worse.
■ Pershing’s more current and applicable field experience. Wood’s last combat command had been his controversial assignment in the Philippines (1906–1908).
■ Wood’s reputation as a political general, whose loyalty to any superior authority was questionable.
Thus, the most senior major general in the Army was ordered to train the 89th Division at Camp Funston, KS, clearly a minor assignment and one designed to humiliate him. In December 1917, Wood visited Europe as part of a tour arranged for senior American officers to observe Allied operations and be observed by Pershing, who was evaluating generals for top overseas commands. Even in this situation, Wood found it impossible to remain silent and made several controversial remarks about American leadership and troop readiness that quickly attracted press attention. It was the final straw; Pershing let it be known—and not discreetly—that Wood was not welcome back in France
He remained undeterred and pressed his supporters to help secure him a combat command. A direct appeal to Secretary of War Newton Baker was rebuffed and Wood even arranged an audience with President Wilson to press his case, an astounding request given Wilson’s well-known antipathy. Wood’s humiliation was compounded when, on the eve of the departure of the 89th Division for France, he was relieved and ordered to train another unit, the 10th Division, at Camp Funston. The closest Wood got to combat was the inspection tour, during which a trench mortar exploded at the breech, slightly wounding him and killing several officers who stood nearby. He returned to America and performed his duty, and for his “especially meritorious and conspicuous service” during the Great War was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal. In 1920 he waged a campaign for the Republican nomination for the presidency, but he was out-maneuvered and lost out at the convention to Warren Harding.
|With Emilio Aguinaldo and His Wife, 4 July 1924|
Excerpted from "The Frustrations of Leonard Wood," by Steven L. Ossad, Army, September 2003