Teddy Roosevelt & Leonard Wood, Partners in Command

Teddy Roosevelt & Leonard Wood, Partners in Command

Teddy Roosevelt & Leonard Wood, Partners in Command

Teddy Roosevelt & Leonard Wood, Partners in Command


Theodore Roosevelt was a man of wide interests, strong opinions, and intense ambition for both himself and his country. When he met Leonard Wood in 1897, he recognized a kindred spirit. Moreover, the two men shared a zeal for making the United States an imperial power that would challenge Great Britain as world leader. For the remainder of their lives, their careers would intertwine in ways that shaped the American nation.

When the Spanish American War came, both men seized the opportunity to promote the goals of American empire. Roosevelt resigned as assistant secretary of the navy in William McKinley's administration to serve as a lieutenant colonel of the Rough Riders, a newly organized volunteer cavalry. Wood, then a captain in the medical corps and physician to McKinley, was promoted to colonel and given charge of the unit.

Roosevelt later took over command of the Rough Riders. In the Battle of San Juan Hill, he led it in a charge up Kettle Hill that would end in victory for the American troops and make their daring commander a household name, a war hero, and, eventually, president of the United States.

At the Treaty of Paris in 1898, Spain ceded Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines to the United States. The next year, Wood became military governor of Cuba. He remained in the post until 1902. By that time Roosevelt was president. One of the major accomplishments of his administration was reorganization of the War Department, which the war with Spain had proved disastrously outdated. In 1909, when William Howard Taft needed a strong army chief of staff to enforce the new rules, he appointed Leonard Wood.

Both Wood and Roosevelt were strong proponents of preparedness, and when war broke out in Europe in August 1914, Wood, retired as chief of staff and backed by Roosevelt, established the "Plattsburg camps," a system of basic training camps. When America entered the Great War, the two men's foresight was justified, but their earlier push for mobilization had angered Woodrow Wilson, and both were denied the command positions they sought in Europe.

Roosevelt died in 1919 while preparing for another presidential campaign. Wood made a run in his place but was never taken seriously as a candidate. He retired from the army and spent the last seven years of his life as civilian governor of the Philippines.

It was a quiet end for two men who had been giants of their time. While their modernization of the army is widely admired, they were not without their critics. Roosevelt and Wood saw themselves as bold leaders but were regarded by some as ruthless strivers. And while their shared ambitions for the United States were tempered by a strong sense of duty, they could, in their certainty and determination, trample those who stood in their path. Teddy Roosevelt and Leonard Wood: Partners in Command is a revealing and long overdue look at the dynamic partnership of this fascinating pair and will be welcomed by scholars and military history enthusiasts alike.


This is the story not of two men, but of a friendship, an association. President Theodore Roosevelt and General Leonard Wood, two remarkable men, were the leading proponents of American strength and power during the first two decades of the twentieth century. Greatly different in personality, they shared an obsession with the role of war in the promotion of a glorious American destiny. They went so far as to believe in the benefits of war itself.

Though highly influential at the time, their partnership has been forgotten or at least relegated to the memories of soldiers and military historians. Roosevelt has been remembered for his heroic action at the Battle of San Juan Hill, Cuba, as part of the 1898 Spanish–American War, but few remember that he served under Wood. The Rough Riders, formally known as the 1st United States Volunteer Cavalry Regiment, fought bravely, though overblown by the prose of reporter Richard Harding Davis. Other regiments contributed as much to that victory, perhaps more, but to the public, the name “San Juan Hill” belongs to Teddy Roosevelt.

The United States easily defeated Spain in the so–called “splendid little war,” but success was achieved principally because of the weakness of the Spanish, who were by now a third–rate power. The American expeditions were full of confusion. Supplies, transportation, proper food, training, and even modern rifles were missing. Thus, when Roosevelt became president of the United States in 1901, one of his goals was to reorganize the Army and the Navy, particularly the Army. Aided by that most capable secretary of war, Elihu Root, he set out to rectify organizational evils under which the Army had suffered throughout its history. Never one to forget his friends and allies, TR also arranged for Wood, a Regular Army captain in the Medical Corps, to keep his wartime rank of major general.

As a young general, jumping over hundreds of more senior officers, Wood justified the president’s confidence. After serving as governor of Cuba and

1. John Hay, American ambassador to London.

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