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Russell Alexander Alger
Russell A. Alger

United States Senator from Michigan
In office
September 27, 1902 – January 24, 1907
Preceded by James McMillan
Succeeded by William A. Smith

40th United States Secretary of War
In office
March 5, 1897 – August 1, 1899
President William McKinley
Preceded by Daniel S. Lamont
Succeeded by Elihu Root

20th Governor of Michigan
In office
January 1, 1885 – January 1, 1887
Lieutenant Archibald Buttars
Preceded by Josiah Begole
Succeeded by Cyrus G. Luce

Born February 27, 1836(1836-02-27)
Medina County, Ohio, U.S.
Died January 24, 1907 (aged 70)
Washington, D.C., U.S.
Political party Republican
Spouse(s) Annette H. Henry
Children Fay Alger
Caroline Alger
Frances Alger
Russell A. Alger, Jr.
Fred Alger
Allan Alger
Profession General, Politician
Military service
Service/branch Union Army
Rank Colonel (Brevet Major General)
Battles/wars American Civil War

Russell Alexander Alger (February 27, 1836 – January 24, 1907) was the 20th Governor and U.S. Senator from the state of Michigan and also U.S. Secretary of War during the Presidential administration of William McKinley. He was supposedly a distant relation of Horatio Alger; although Russell Alger lived his own "rags-to-riches" success tale, eventually becoming a financier, lumber baron, railroad owner, and government official in several high offices.[1]

Early life and career[]

Alger was born in Lafayette Township in Medina County, Ohio. He was orphaned at age 12 and worked on a farm to support himself and two siblings. He attended Richfield Academy in Summit County, Ohio, and taught country school for two winters. He studied law in Akron, Ohio, and was admitted to the bar in March 1859. He first began to practice law in Cleveland and moved to Grand Rapids, Michigan, in 1860, where he engaged in the lumber business. On April 2, 1861, he married Annette H. Henry of Grand Rapids. They had six children; Fay, Caroline, Frances, Russell Jr., Fred and Allan. He was the scion of a prominent family, many of whom became involved in 20th Century Michigan politics and active in the Republican Party.[2] His son, Russell A. Alger, Jr., was instrumental in persuading the Packard Motor Car Company to move to Michigan from Ohio; he also built in Grosse Pointe, Michigan, a palatial Italian Renaissance style estate, "The Moorings", which was donated in 1949 and became the Grosse Pointe War Memorial, honoring veterans of World War II.[3] Russell A. Alger had a home in Black River which is in Alcona Township, Michigan, which he maintained while overseeing his lumbering operations.

Civil War[]

He enlisted as a private soldier in the American Civil War in 1861. He was commissioned and served as a captain and major in the 2nd Michigan Cavalry Regiment. At the Battle of Boonesville, July 11, 1862, he was sent by Colonel Philip Sheridan to attack the enemy's rear with ninety picked men. The Confederate forces were soundly defeated, and although Alger was wounded and taken prisoner, he escaped the same day. On October 16, he was made lieutenant colonel of the 6th Michigan Cavalry.

On February 28, 1863, he was promoted to colonel of the 5th Michigan Cavalry. His command was the first to enter Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, on June 28, and he was specially mentioned in the report of General George Armstrong Custer on cavalry operations there. Alger was considered a military strategist and stood with President Lincoln on the battlefield surveying the Union supplies and while pursuing the enemy on July 8, he was severely wounded at Boonesborough, Maryland. He participated in General Sheridan’s Valley Campaigns of 1864 in Virginia. On June 11, 1864, at Trevillian Station, he captured a large force of Confederates with a brilliant cavalry charge. One year later, on June 11, 1865, he was brevetted brigadier general and major general of volunteers.

In three years, he served in 66 different battles and skirmishes. In 1868, he was elected the first commander of the Michigan department of the Grand Army of the Republic, and in 1879 became its national Commander-in-chief.[1]

Lumber baron[]

After the Civil War, Alger settled in Detroit as head of Alger, Smith & Company and the Manistique Lumbering Company. His great pine forest on Lake Huron comprised more than 100 square miles and produced annually more than 75,000,000 feet of lumber.[4]

File:Russell Alexander Alger3.jpg

Russell A. Alger

At the turn of the 20th century (following Alger's service as Secretary of War), he and Florida landowner Martin Sullivan established the Alger-Sullivan Lumber Company, which milled lumber in Century, Florida.[5]


In 1884, Alger was elected Governor of Michigan , serving from January 1, 1885, to January 1, 1887. He declined renomination in 1886 and was a presidential elector on the Republican ticket in 1888. In 1888, he was elected as the first Commander of the Michigan Department of the Grand Army of the Republic and as the 18th Commander-in-Chief of the GAR in 1889.

Alger was appointed Secretary of War in the Cabinet of U.S. President William McKinley on March 5, 1897. As Secretary, he recommended pay increases for military personnel serving at foreign embassies and legations. He recommended legislation to authorize a Second Assistant Secretary of War and recommended a constabulary force for Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines. He was criticized for the inadequate preparation and inefficient operation of the department during the Spanish-American War, especially for his appointment of William R. Shafter as leader of the Cuban expedition.[6] "Algerism" became an epithet to describe the claimed incompetence of the army, especially as compared to the more stellar performance of the navy.[7] Alger resigned at President McKinley’s request, August 1, 1899, though he perhaps got the last word on his critics by publishing The Spanish-American War in 1901.[8]

On September 27, 1902, Alger was appointed by Michigan Governor Aaron T. Bliss to the United States Senate to fill the vacancy caused by the death of James McMillan. He was subsequently elected by the Michigan State Legislature to the Senate in January 1903. He served until his death in Washington, D.C. in 1907. During a memorial address in rememberance of Senator Alger, Senator John Spooner of Wisconsin said of the late senator: "No man without nobel purpose, well-justified ambitions, strong fiber, and splendid qualities in abundance could have carved out an left behind him such a career."[9] He was chairman of the Senate Committee on Pacific Railroads during the 59th Congress.[10] He is interred in Elmwood Cemetery in Detroit, Michigan.[11]



Russell A. Alger Memorial Fountain at Grand Circus Park in Detroit, Michigan.

Alger County, Michigan is named for him. A monument by Detroit sculptor Carlo Romanelli, consisting of a bronze bust of Alger mounted on a stone pedestal, is located on the grounds of the William G. Mather Building in Munising, Michigan. It was erected in June, 1909, with funds provided by the heirs of Alger and by the Board of Education of the Munising Township Schools. A memorial fountain by sculptor Daniel Chester French and architect Henry Bacon was dedicated in Detroit in 1921.

In 1898, a movie was made, entitled General Wheeler and Secretary of War Alger at Camp Wikoff that documents an official visit as Secretary of War.[12] Camp Wikoff was in New Jersey, and this was an early event that permitted the McKinley administration to garner support from the New York newspapers.[13]

In May 1898, his War Department established Camp Russell A. Alger on a 1,400-acre farm called "Woodburn Manor" near he small communities of Falls Church and Dunn Loring, Virginia. In its brief existence, 23,000 men trained there for service in the Spanish-American War. Faced with a typhoid fever epidemic, it was abandoned the month that the War ended (in August 1898), and sold the following month. It is commenorated by an official Virginia historical marker.[14]

Alger, Michigan is also named after him. It is a small community founded in the late-1800's located in the area of the lower peninsula where he oversaw lumbering and railroad operations.

The Grosse Pointe War Memorial is housed in one of the Alger family's former homes.[15]

The Southeast side Grand Rapids, Michigan neighborhood Alger Heights is named after him.[16]

In 1942, a United States Liberty ship named the SS Russell A. Alger was planned. She was cancelled before construction.


See also[]


  1. 1.0 1.1 Bourasaw, Noel V., "Russell A. Alger, logging capitalist, Michigan governor, Secretary of War," Skagit River Journal of History & Folklore, 2004.
  2. Political Graveyard, Alger.
  3. Grosse Pointe Historical Society, Russell A. Alger, Jr.
  4. Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography, edited by James Grant Wilson, John Fiske Six volumes, New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1887-1889
  5. "Century, Florida - 100 years and still counting". The Alger-Sullivan Historical Society. Retrieved 2010-07-10. 
  6. Folsom, Dr. Burton W., Mackinac Center, "Russell Alger and the Spanish-American War" (1998).
  7. Russell Alexander Alger in Library of Congress's The World of 1898: The Spanish-American War
  8. Russell Alexander Alger (1901). The Spanish-American War. Kessinger Publishing. 
  9. Moore, Charles (1915). History of Michigan. II. Chicago: The Lewis Publishing Co.. pp. 687. 
  10. "Charimen of Senate Standing Committees 1789-Present". Senate Historical Office. June 2008. pp. 35. Retrieved 2009-05-07. 
  11. Find A Grave, Russell A. Alger.
  12. General Wheeler and Secretary of War Alger at Camp Wikoff (1898) at the Internet Movie Database
  13. Spanish American War, Camp Wikoff.
  14. Craig Swain, Camp Russell A. Alger historical marker.
  15. Grosse Pointe War Memorial.
  16. [1]

External links[]

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Josiah Begole |width="40%" style="text-align: center;" rowspan="1"|Governor of Michigan
1885 – 1887 |width="30%" align="center" rowspan="1"| Succeeded by
Cyrus G. Luce |- Template:U.S. Secretary box |- ! colspan="3" style="background: #cccccc" | United States Senate Template:U.S. Senator box |}

Template:Governors of Michigan Template:USSecWar Template:USSenMI Template:McKinley cabinet

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