The demotion of General Wood

General Leonard Wood and New York City mayor John Purroy Mitchel inspecting troops in 1915

General Leonard Wood (right) and New York City’s preparationist mayor John Purroy Mitchel (top hat) inspecting troops outside New York City Hall in 1915.

Today marks one of the more dramatic, if lesser-noted, moments in the lead-up to American involvement in the Great War. It was on 25 March 1917 that General Leonard Wood sent acknowledgement of his relief of command of the Department of the East at Governors Island. Though not as well known as Truman’s sacking of MacArthur, Wood’s demotion was equally dramatic. It is probably lesser known because the United States joined the European fray just a month later and the carnage of the Western Front eclipsed the Wood imbroglio. How the war effort would have gone with Wood and not Pershing in command of the AEF is one of the great counterfactuals of World War One.

Wood had been Chief of the General Staff of the Army when President Wilson was inaugurated in March 1913. Some tried to get rid of the outspoken Wood then, but he managed to finish out his term. Afterward, he transferred to New York City where he commanded the powerful Department of the East from Governors Island.

Some of the Wood-Wilson tension came from Wood’s relationship with Theodore Roosevelt. After the Great War began in summer 1914 these two former commanders of the Rough Riders advocated for American preparedness. This ran counter to Wilson’s attempts at neutrality. Wood’s demotion was in part his fault. A former president could criticize the Administration; a current general cannot. Nonetheless, over the next few years Wood’s public statements became more strident and, well, public.

He was also part of the Plattsburg Camp Movement, the semi-official military preparedness experiment in which civilians were trained for military service. Roosevelt’s sons Ted and Archie both attended the 1915 Plattsburg camp. Wood was not easy to get along with. In a letter to his younger brother Archie, Ted Roosevelt later wrote that “Confidentially he give me a pain.”

When Theodore Roosevelt irked Wilson with a rousing Plattsburg speech Wood’s hand in the event was obvious. There were many other incidents over the years but the final straw for Wilson seems to have been a talk that Wood gave at New York City’s DeWitt Clinton High School on 14 March. After consulting with the Secretary of War the following week Wilson decided to make the move. It is revealing to note that his decision to demote Wood came after he decided to ask Congress for a declaration of war, which came in early April.

Wood’s demotion came in the form a division of the Eastern Department into three entities. Wood was given his choice and decided to take the command of the smaller Southeastern Department. Wood put on a brave face stating that “I am a good soldier, and go where I am sent.” The outcry was nonetheless immediate. Roosevelt was outraged, as was New York City mayor John P. Mitchel. Angry letters from Wood allies poured into the New York Times. In a show of support Wood was elected president of the Lincoln Memorial University Endowment Association the day after his demotion.

What would have happened if Leonard Wood had commanded in Europe instead of John Pershing is something we will never know.

(image/Library of Congress)

Comments Off

Filed under Governors Island, Theodore Roosevelt Jr (President), WW1

The Centennial is coming

Archduke Ferdinand in Sarajevo, June 1914

Archduke Ferdinand in Sarajevo, June 1914

The Centennial of the Great War begins this summer and the United States World War I Centennial Commission is sponsoring a “Centennial Convention and Trade Fair” in Washington DC in mid-June. I may try to go to this. Here are the details. I am happy they are thinking creatively with this. I think the next five years are going to change many of our assumption about the events of 1914-1919.

(image/Imperial War Museum)

Comments Off

Filed under WW1

From Gettysburg to Plattsburg

Over the weekend I finished Edward J. Renehan’s The Lion’s Pride: Theodore Roosevelt and His Family in Peace and War. It details the Roosevlt family’s role in the First World War. All four of his sons were in uniform and the youngest, Quentin, was killed. Even daughter Ethel served in France, as a nurse.

A Spanish-American War headstone tilts on a hillside in Brooklyn's Green-Wood Cemetery

A Spanish-American War headstone tilts on a hillside in Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery

One of my big  things for the upcoming season at Governors Island is to tie the Civil War Generation together with the individuals who came afterward and fought in the Spanish-American and Great Wars. There are all kinds of nationalist, reconciliationist, and other themes to explore. In just one “for instance,” General Joseph Wheeler fought in Cuba with Roosevelt and later served at Governors Island.

Last night I stared The Citizen Soldier: The Plattsburg Camp Movement, 1913-1920. The Plattsburg Camp did not open until 1915, but there were precursors at Gettybsurg and Monterey dating back to 1913. I do not know if the Gettysburg preparationist camp, not to be confused with Camp Colt that came along later, was on the battlefield or not.

In one of those serendipitious moments that is too good to be true, an article came through my in-box this afternoon announcing the publication tomorrow of Teddy Roosevelt and Leonard Wood: Partners in Command. Wood was the original colonel of the Rough Riders, prior to his own promotion and Roosevelt’s ascension to his former position. Wood was on Governors Island during the Taft and Wilson Administrations. Roosevelt and Wood is the posthumous, final book of John S.D. Eisenhower. I am really excited about the possibilities of tying things together.


Filed under Gettysburg, WW1

One woman’s Gettysburg


I got my sesquicentennial on last night and went to St. Francis College in Brooklyn to see a one-person play about Gettysburg. The show, appropriately enough, was titled Gettysburg: One Woman’s War and starred actress Michele LaRue. The play was actually three separate stories, each based on a different moment in Gettysburg history: 1 July 1863, 19 November 1863, and the 50th anniversary in 1913. These stories were all written by Elsie Singmaster, who I must confess I had never heard of until yesterday. Singmaster was born in 1878 and, unfortunately for her legacy, has been tagged a “regional writer” for her many works on the Pennsylvania German community. Her star seems to have risen in recent years with the rise of Women’s Studies, though any type of labeling is fraught with its own pitfalls.

I had a brief but pleasant conversation with Ms. LaRue after the performance during the reception. I told her that my favorite place in Gettysburg is Evergreen Cemetery because so much of the town’s history is there in front of you. She got a kick out of that. The vignettes Ms. LaRue adapted all came from Singmaster’s 1913 collection Gettysburg: Stories of the Red Harvest and the Aftermath. One can check it out online if so inclined.

Comments Off

Filed under Gettysburg, Sesquicentennial

If headstones could talk

A Civil War headstone, though not the one mentioned in the post

A Civil War headstone, though not the one mentioned in the post

I had an interesting experience this past week. The Sunday before last I was in Green-Wood Cemetery enjoying the scenery and taking photos now and again as I do. I took a pic of one Civil War headstone that struck my eye. After I got home I did a little research to find what I could on this individual. Searching one of the genealogy websites I found out he was an accomplished middle-grade officer in the 5th New York. There are many veterans of Duryees Zouaves in Green-Wood. I soon realized he was in someone’s family tree and so I emailed the lady about my pics and the records I found. I would love to share them here, but for privacy and decorum’s sake I will refrain.

Well, before I knew it I got an email back from the woman who told me she had never known her great, great grandfather had been a Civil War veteran. I found that a little odd given the man’s stature, but that’s the way it goes sometimes. I was happy to provide the information.

Now that spring is almost here I am going to get into the cemeteries of New York City in a bigger, more systematic way. The Hayfoot and I have been to a good many here and in DC, but it has always been haphazard. To a degree this was intentional: I go to Green-Wood because it is around the corner and I am trying to unwind on a weekend day. I almost submitted a proposal to the Association of Gravestone Studies conference in Indiana based on the graves of the various Roosevelts buried in the Greater New York and DC areas but decided I was not quite ready. Maybe next year.

Comments Off

Filed under Uncategorized

Using Getty images

One thing I have always done here on The Strawfoot is make certain that I use other’s photographs properly. Sometimes the price of doing the right thing means forgoing the ideal image for a post because it is not in the public domain. Usually I use the Library of Congress, National Archives, Wikimedia Commons and the like. Well, our work just got a little easier this week when Getty Images decided to make its catalog available for free for non-commercial use. It is surprisingly easy to do. I embedded the photograph above from the Getty Images website. This is an huge story and incredible resource. Make it part of your arsenal.

Comments Off

Filed under Media and Web 2.0


postcard of Youngstown, Ohio, c. 1910

postcard of Youngstown, Ohio, c. 1910

Last night I finished George Packer’s sobering new book The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America. Packer consciously modeled the book on John Dos Passos’s USA Trilogy. Passos’s Trilogy depicted America as it was between 1910-1930. Packer talks about America between roughly 1970 and today. Trilogy was a series of novels; the stories told in The Unwinding are all too real.

It occurred to me when I read the book that I have never lived in a world where there was no Rust Belt. I found myself wishing my great friend Charles Hirsch were still alive. He was precisely twenty years old than I am and grew up at the tail end of Industrialized America. The loss of our manufacturing job base was something he talked about frequently. Were he still here today we would have talked about Packer’s book and broken it down.

This past November before he died we were planning a trip for this upcoming summer to his native Minnesota, where he was going to take me to some of the old mining towns and places like that. He would have been the perfect guide.

Packer does more than just discuss the collapse of American manufacturing. He tells the story of the deficit, banking crisis, political stalemate, and other ills that have plagued us in recent years. The book works because he puts a human face on the issues. He lets people from all sides tell their stories of success and/or failure in their own words.

I found myself getting older reading the farther I read along. So much of what seems like current events to me–say the energy crisis of the early 1970s–now reads as history. It is terrifying, too, to realize that the wheels aren’t on as tightly as you think they are.

Comments Off

Filed under Uncategorized