William Maxwell Wood—born in about 1809 in Baltimore, Md.—was appointed assistant surgeon on 16 May 1829 and, between 1830 and 1838, served with the West Indies and Home Squadrons, as well as with the Army during the Seminole wars.
He became fleet surgeon with the Pacific Squadron in 1844 and, upon completion of his tour, was about to return to the United States when relations between that country and Mexico became decidedly strained. The commander of the Navy's Pacific Squadron, Commodore John D. Sloat, consequently entrusted certain dispatches to Wood to carry back to the United States with him. Wood volunteered to travel through Mexico and report upon conditions there. Accompanied by the American consul from Mazatlan, Mexico, the former fleet surgeon commenced his journey across Mexico.
Arriving at Guadalajara on 10 May, Wood and his companion found the town "in a high state of agitation" owing to the reception there of the news of the battles between American and Mexican forces at Palo Alto and Resaca de la Palma, on the Rio Grande River. The surgeon immediately wrote a dispatch to Sloat at Mazatlan, and it was delivered in five days—an exceptional occurrence in those days. His message that hostilities with Mexico had actually commenced was the first tidings of that nature that Sloat had received.
Wood meanwhile continued on his journey across Mexico and subsequently arrived at Mexico City to be "startled and shocked by hearing newsboys crying through the streets 'Grand victory over the North Americans.' " He later learned through a trusted friend of the Mexican minister of war that General Zachary Taylor's men had, in fact, annihilated the Mexican Army's choice regiment. Surgeon Wood remained in Mexico City not less than a week and gathered more information which he sent off to Commodore Sloat, apprising him of the situation, via Guadalajara.
Wood continued his mission, as he had since the beginning of it, in civilian clothes—running the risk of being apprehended as a spy—and, while posing as an Englishman, inspected the defenses of the castle at Chapultepec. Continuing on to Veracruz, the surgeon carefully took notes on Mexico, its condition and resources. Ultimately, the physician reached a neutral man-of-war and was taken to the flagship of the American blockading squadron. Sailing on a vessel especially detached for the purpose, Wood carried the vital intelligence information to Washington.
Meanwhile, Commodore Sloat took action. As he later recorded in a letter to Wood, "The information you furnished me at Mazatlan from the City of Mexico, via Guadalajara, (at the risk of your life) was the only reliable information I received of that event, and which induced me to proceed immediately to California, and upon my own responsibility to take possession of that country, which I did on the 7th of July, 1846."
Sloat considered the performance of Wood's journey through Mexico "as an extraordinary feat, requiring great courage, presence of mind, and address. How you escaped from the heart of an enemy's country . . . has always been a wonder to me."
Following the Mexican War, Wood served in the receiving ship at Baltimore and later went to the steamer Michigan, operating on the Great Lakes. He again served as fleet surgeon—this time with the East India Squadron—from 1856 to 1858, and took part in Commodore Andrew H. Foote's attack upon the Chinese Barrier Forts—of "enormous strength . . . built of large blocks of granite . . . heavily armed."—at Canton, China, in response to Chinese attacks upon American shipping.
Wood subsequently served a second tour in Michigan before he became fleet surgeon for the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron. While thus serving, Wood witnessed the historic battle of the ironclads USS Monitor and CSS Virginia (the former USS Merrimack) in Hampton Roads; and later took part in the assault and capture of Sewall's Point.
After the Civil War, Wood served at Baltimore in 1866 and 1867 and was President of the Naval Examining Board in 1868 before he became Chief of the Bureau of Medicine and Surgery in 1870. Appointed medical director on 3 March 1871, Wood retired later that same year and died in Baltimore on 1 March 1880.
(DD-317: dp. 1,215; l. 314'5"; b. 31'8"; dr. 9'4" (mean); s. 35.0 k.; cpl. 95; a. 4 4", 1 3", 12 21" tt.; cl. Clemson)
Wood (Destroyer No. 317) was laid down on 23 January 1919 at San Francisco, Calif., by the Union Iron Works plant of the Bethlehem Shipbuilding Corp; launched on 28 May 1919; sponsored by Mrs. George Kirkland Smith, the granddaughter of William Maxwell Wood; reclassified DD-317 on 17 July 1920; and commissioned at the Mare Island Navy Yard, Vallejo, Calif., on 28 January 1921, Lt. Comdr. Paul M. Bates in command.
Following commissioning, Wood underwent her trials before mooring at the Santa Fe docks, San Diego, Calif., where she remained as part of the "rotating reserve" into the summer of 1921. The new destroyer then spent the ensuing months, into the late spring of 1922, operating off the coast of southern California on drills and exercises, off the port of San Pedro, and the Coronado Islands.
At the end of that period of activity in June of 1922, Wood shifted northward and reached Seattle, Wash., on 1 July 1922. She spent the 4th of July there before visiting Port Angeles, Wash., with the fleet, for exercises and maneuvers. She then conducted tactical drills and exercises in the Pacific Northwest, touching at Ta-coma, Port Angeles, Bellingham, and Seattle before departing Port Angeles on 2 September, bound for Mare Island.
After taking on board ammunition at Mare Island on 5 and 6 September, Wood put to sea, bound for San Diego, Calif., for a machinery overhaul. Upon completion of those repairs, the destroyer rejoined the fleet for rehearsals for shortrange battle practices. She then operated on various trials into November.
Over the next nine and one-half years, Wood operated with the Battle Fleet in an active role, while many of her sisters lay in "Red Lead Row" awaiting the call to active service. Breaking her local operations off the west coast, Wood participated in Fleet Problems I through IX—the large scale fleet exercises that were held once a year (except in 1924, when three were held) involving most of the Fleet's active units. During the course of those maneuvers, she ranged from the Caribbean to the Panama Canal and from Hawaii to the coast of Central America. She also ventured as far north as the coast of Alaska.
Highlighting Wood's service in the autumn of 1925 was the cruise with the fleet to Australia as part of Destroyer Division 34. The destroyer subsequently took part in the search for the downed PN-9 flying boat. In March 1927, during one of the phases of Fleet Problem VII, Wood participated in the search for survivors from the lost German steamship Albatros and later that same year, from 27 June to 16 July, Wood supported American peace-keeping forces ashore on Nicaragua.
Decommissioned at San Diego on 31 March 1930, Wood was struck from the Navy list on 22 July. Her hulk was then sold for scrap on 14 November 1930.
Exchequer was laid down under a Maritime Commission contract (MC hull 590) on 26 August 1942 at Sparrows Point, Md., by the Bethlehem Steel Co.; renamed Wood and classified APA-101 on 5 October 1942; re-classified to AP-56 on 1 February 1943; and launched on 13 February 1943.
However, prior to commissioning, Wood was renamed Leedstown (q.v.) on 17 March 1943.