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He took a position as an Army contract physician in 1885, and was stationed at Fort Huachuca, Arizona. Wood participated in the last campaign against Geronimo, and was awarded the Medal of Honor in 1898 for carrying dispatches 100 miles through hostile territory and for commanding an infantry detachment whose officers had been lost.
Wood was personal physician to Presidents Grover Cleveland and William McKinley through 1898. It was during this period he developed a friendship with Theodore Roosevelt, then assistant secretary of the Navy.
At the outbreak of the Spanish-American War, Wood, with Roosevelt, organized the 1st Volunteer Cavalry regiment, popularly known as the Rough Riders. Wood commanded the regiment in a successful engagement known as the Battle of Las Guasimas. When brigade commander, Samuel B. M. Young became ill, Wood received a field promotion to brigadier general and assumed command of the 2nd Brigade, Cavalry Division, V Corps (which included the Rough Riders) and led the brigade to a famous victory at Kettle Hill and San Juan Heights.
After San Juan, Wood led the 2nd Cavalry Brigade for the rest of the war; he stayed in Cuba after the war and was appointed the Military Governor of Santiago in 1898, and of Cuba from 1899–1902. In that capacity he relied on his medical experience to institute improvements to the medical and sanitary conditions in Cuba. He was promoted to brigadier general shortly before moving to his next assignment.
In 1902 he proceeded to the Philippines, where he served in the capacity of commander of the Philippines Division and later as commander of the Department of the East. He was promoted to major general in 1903, and served as governor of Moro province from 1903–06. During this period he was in charge of several bloody campaigns against Filipino troops, which was to be the beginning of his unpopularity there.
Wood was named Army Chief of Staff in 1910 by President Taft, whom he had met while both were in the Philippines; he remains the only medical officer to have ever held that position. As Chief of Staff, Wood implemented several programs, among which were the forerunner of the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) program, and the Preparedness Movement, a campaign for universal military training and wartime conscription. The Preparedness Movement plan was scrapped in favor of the Selective Service System, shortly before World War I. He developed the Mobile Army , thus laying the groundwork for American success in WWI.
In 1914, Wood was replaced as Chief of Staff by William Wotherspoon. With the US entry into World War I, Wood was recommended by Republicans, in particular Henry Cabot Lodge, to be the U.S. field commander; however, War Secretary Newton Baker instead appointed John J. Pershing, amid much controversy. During the war, Wood was instead put in charge of the training of the 10th and 89th Infantry Divisions, both at Camp Funston . In 1915, he published The Military Obligation of Citizenship, and in 1916 Our Military History.
Wood was an unsuccessful candidate for the Republican presidential nomination in the election of 1920.
Medal of Honor citation
- Voluntarily carried dispatches through a region infested with hostile Indians, making a journey of 70 miles in one night and walking 30 miles the next day. Also for several weeks, while in close pursuit of Geronimo's band and constantly expecting an encounter, commanded a detachment of Infantry, which was then without an officer, and to the command of which he was assigned upon his own request.
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