Russell A. Alger

Last updated
Russell Alger
Russell Alexander Alger by The Detroit Publishing Co. - retouched from older copy.jpg
United States Senator
from Michigan
In office
September 27, 1902 January 24, 1907
Preceded by James McMillan
Succeeded by William 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
Personal details
Russell Alexander Alger

(1836-02-27)February 27, 1836
Lafayette Township, Ohio, U.S.
DiedJanuary 24, 1907(1907-01-24) (aged 70)
Washington, D.C., U.S.
Political party Republican
Spouse(s)Annette Huldana Squire Henry
Military service
AllegianceFlag of the United States (1863-1865).svg  United States
Branch/serviceFlag of the United States Army.svg  United States Army
  Union Army
Years of service1861–1864
Rank Union Army major general rank insignia.svg Brevet Major General
Commands Flag of Michigan.svg 5th Michigan Volunteer Cavalry Regiment
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 an army officer, financier, lumber baron, railroad owner, and government official in several high offices. [1]

U.S. state constituent political entity of the United States

In the United States, a state is a constituent political entity, of which there are currently 50. Bound together in a political union, each state holds governmental jurisdiction over a separate and defined geographic territory and shares its sovereignty with the federal government. Due to this shared sovereignty, Americans are citizens both of the federal republic and of the state in which they reside. State citizenship and residency are flexible, and no government approval is required to move between states, except for persons restricted by certain types of court orders.

Michigan U.S. state in the United States

Michigan is a state in the Great Lakes and Midwestern regions of the United States. The state's name, Michigan, originates from the Ojibwe word mishigamaa, meaning "large water" or "large lake". With a population of about 10 million, Michigan is the tenth most populous of the 50 United States, with the 11th most extensive total area, and is the largest state by total area east of the Mississippi River. Its capital is Lansing, and its largest city is Detroit. Metro Detroit is among the nation's most populous and largest metropolitan economies.

William McKinley 25th president of the United States

William McKinley was the 25th president of the United States, serving from March 4, 1897, until his assassination six months into his second term. During his presidency, McKinley led the nation to victory in the Spanish–American War, raised protective tariffs to promote American industry and kept the nation on the gold standard in a rejection of free silver.


Early life and career

Annette Huldana Squire Henry Annette Huldana Squire Henry.jpg
Annette Huldana Squire Henry

Russell Alexander Alger was born on February 27, 1836, in Lafayette Township in Medina County, Ohio. His parents were Russell and Caroline (Moulton) Alger. [2] He was orphaned at age 13 and worked on a farm to support himself and two younger siblings. He attended Richfield Academy in Summit County, Ohio, and taught country school for two winters. [2] 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.

Lafayette Township, Medina County, Ohio Township in Ohio, United States

Lafayette Township is one of the eighteen townships of Medina County, Ohio, United States. The 2000 census found 4,329 people in the township.

Medina County, Ohio U.S. county in Ohio

Medina County is a county in the U.S. state of Ohio. As of the 2010 census, the population was 172,332. Its county seat is Medina. The county was created in 1812 and later organized in 1818. It is named for Medina, a city in Saudi Arabia.

Summit County, Ohio U.S. county in Ohio

Summit County is an urban county in the U.S. state of Ohio. As of the 2010 census, the population was 541,781 making it the fourth-most populous county in Ohio. Its county seat is Akron. The county was formed on March 3, 1840, from portions of Medina, Portage and Stark Counties. It was named "Summit County" because the highest elevation on the Ohio and Erie Canal is located in the county.

On April 2, 1861, he married Annette Huldana Squire Henry of Grand Rapids. [2] They had six children; Henrietta Fay Huldana (Alger) Bailey, Caroline Annette (Alger) Shelden, Frances Aura (Alger) Pike, Russell Alexander Alger, Jr., Frederick Charles Moulton Alger and Allan Alger. Frederick graduated from Harvard in 1899, served as a lieutenant colonel with the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) in France during the First World War and was awarded the French Legion of Honor.

Grand Rapids, Michigan City in Michigan, United States

Grand Rapids is the second-largest city in Michigan and the largest city in West Michigan. It is on the Grand River about 30 miles (48 km) east of Lake Michigan. As of the 2010 census, the city population was 188,040. In 2010, the Grand Rapids metropolitan area had a population of 1,005,648, and the combined statistical area of Grand Rapids-Muskegon-Holland had a population of 1,321,557. Grand Rapids is the county seat of Kent County.

Alger was the scion of a prominent family, many of whom became involved in 20th century Michigan politics and active in the Republican Party. [3]

Republican Party (United States) Major political party in the United States

The Republican Party, also referred to as the GOP, is one of the two major political parties in the United States; the other is its historic rival, the Democratic Party.

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. [4]

Grosse Pointe, Michigan City in Michigan

Grosse Pointe is a waterfront city adjacent to Detroit in Wayne County in the U.S. state of Michigan. The municipality covers just over one square mile and had a population of 5,421 at the 2010 census. It is bordered on the west by Grosse Pointe Park, on the north by Detroit, on the east by Grosse Pointe Farms, and on the south by Lake Saint Clair. Grosse Pointe is about eight miles (13 km) east of downtown Detroit, accessible by Jefferson Avenue or several other cross streets. Grosse Pointe is one of five similarly named municipalities in northeastern Wayne County, and is often called "The City" or Grosse Pointe City.

Renaissance architecture architectural style

Renaissance architecture is the European architecture of the period between the early 14th and early 16th centuries in different regions, demonstrating a conscious revival and development of certain elements of ancient Greek and Roman thought and material culture. Stylistically, Renaissance architecture followed Gothic architecture and was succeeded by Baroque architecture. Developed first in Florence, with Filippo Brunelleschi as one of its innovators, the Renaissance style quickly spread to other Italian cities. The style was carried to France, Germany, England, Russia and other parts of Europe at different dates and with varying degrees of impact.

Grosse Pointe War Memorial United States historic place

TheWar Memorial, also known as the Russell A. Alger Jr. House and as the Moorings was dedicated to the memory of veterans and soldiers of World War II. It is located at 32 Lake Shore Drive in Grosse Pointe Farms, MI.

Russell A. Alger had a home in Black River which is in Alcona Township, Michigan, which he maintained while overseeing his lumbering operations.

Alcona Township, Michigan Civil township in Michigan, United States

Alcona Township is a civil township of Alcona County in the U.S. state of Michigan. As of the 2010 census, the township population was 968.

Civil War

He enlisted as a private soldier in the American Civil War on September 2, 1861. [5] He was commissioned and served as a captain and major in the 2nd Michigan Cavalry Regiment. [5]

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. Alger resigned from the army on September 20, 1864. [6] On January 13, 1866, President Andrew Johnson nominated Alger for the award of the grade of brevet brigadier general of volunteers to rank from June 11, 1865, and the U.S. Senate confirmed the award on March 12, 1866. [7] On February 28, 1867, President Johnson nominated Alger for the award of the grade of brevet major general of volunteers to rank from June 11, 1865, and the U.S. Senate confirmed the award on March 2, 1867. [8]

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 1889 became its national Commander-in-chief at the Twenty-Third National Encampment in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. [1] He was also a member of the Michigan Commandery of the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States (MOLLUS). Alger's two sons, Frederick W. Alger and Russell A. Alger, Jr. were hereditary companions of MOLLUS.

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 (260 km2) and produced annually more than 75,000,000 board feet (180,000 m3) of lumber. [9] In order to transport the lumber, Alger led his company to create the Detroit, Bay City and Alpena Railroad, [10] of which Alger served as president. [11]

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 Foshee, Alabama and Century, Florida. [12]


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. Alger's name was placed in nomination for president at the 1888 Republican National Convention. He rose in balloting to 142 votes, with 416 necessary to win, but Benjamin Harrison ultimately obtained the nomination and went on to win the general election. In 1888, Alger was elected as the 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 in 1900, in a portrait by Percy Ives. Russell Alexander Alger by Percy Ives.jpg
Alger in 1900, in a portrait by Percy Ives.

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. [13] "Algerism" became an epithet to describe the claimed incompetence of the army, especially as compared to the more stellar performance of the navy. [14] 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. [15]

One sidelight of Alger's career in the McKinley Administration was his personal vendetta against former Confederate partisan Col. John Singleton Mosby. Mosby, a famous (or notorious) figure, had been United States Consul at Hong Kong, China, under Hayes but had been replaced with the election of Democrat Grover Cleveland. Upon his return to the United States, Mosby had taken a position obtained for him by his close friend former President Ulysses S. Grant with the Southern Pacific Railroad which he held for fifteen years. When the railroad changed ownership, Mosby lost his position so when McKinley became President, he returned east to seek out a position with the new administration. Mosby had known McKinley for many years through his involvement in Republican politics both in Virginia and California.

Unknown to Mosby as he headed east with hopes of a good position with the new administration, Alger was doing all in his power to thwart the former Confederate guerrilla. His hatred for Mosby was personal. While Alger served with Sheridan in the Shenandoah in 1864, a number of his command had been caught burning homes in the Valley and had been executed by members of Mosby's command as war criminals. Alger never forgot nor forgave what had happened for though Mosby was not present at the time of the events, he had concurred with the actions of his men. So despite having been asked to send a list to the McKinley administration of what posts he desired, by the time he arrived from the west coast Mosby found that all had been "unexpectedly" given to someone else and he was forced to return to the west coast disappointed and unemployed. But Alger's involvement with the defeat of Mosby's hopes did not remain hidden. It was reported in the May 11, 1898, San Francisco Call under the headline "Alger Dislikes Mosby" and it is probable that until he read that article, the 65-year-old Mosby had no idea that his failure to obtain a position was anything other than bad luck.

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 remembrance of Senator Alger, Senator John Spooner of Wisconsin said of the late senator: "No man without noble purpose, well-justified ambitions, strong fiber, and splendid qualities in abundance could have carved out and left behind him such a career." [16] He was chairman of the Senate Committee on Pacific Railroads during the 59th Congress. [17] He is interred in Elmwood Cemetery in Detroit, Michigan.


Alger, Michigan, a small community in Michigan's lower peninsula was named after him in 1882. It is a small community located in the area of the lower peninsula where he oversaw lumbering and railroad operations. In addition, Alger County, in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, was founded in 1885.

In May 1898, his War Department established Camp Russell A. Alger on a farm of 1,400 acres (5.7 km2) called "Woodburn Manor" near the 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 commemorated by an official Virginia historical marker. [18]

Also 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. [19] Camp Wikoff was in New York, and this was an early event that permitted the McKinley administration to garner support from the New York newspapers. [20]

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 in Grand Circus Park, where it intersects East Adams and Woodward in downtown Detroit [21] by sculptor Daniel Chester French and architect Henry Bacon was dedicated in Detroit in 1921.

Alger as Secretary of War reviewing returning Spanish-American soldiers in 1898 at Camp Wikoff, New York. Review of troops by Secretary of War. Camp Wikoff, New York, 1898 - NARA - 530698.tif
Alger as Secretary of War reviewing returning Spanish-American soldiers in 1898 at Camp Wikoff, New York.

Russell A. Alger street is in Black River, Michigan, and the town contains an eponymous "Alger" street. So too does Lincoln, Michigan. Alger’s Camp was located a short distance from Mud Lake (now Jewell Lake) in Alcona County, Michigan. [22]

The Grosse Pointe War Memorial is housed in one of the Alger family's former homes. [23]

The Southeast side Grand Rapids, Michigan neighborhood Alger Heights is named after him. [24]

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


See also

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  1. 1 2 Bourasaw, Noel V., "Russell A. Alger, logging capitalist, Michigan governor, Secretary of War," Skagit River Journal of History & Folklore, 2004.
  2. 1 2 3 Moulton, Henry William (1906). Moulton Annals, pp. 84, 114–17. Chicago: Edward A. Clayhill.
  3. Kestenbaum, Lawrence. "The Political Graveyard: Index to Politicians: Alexandre to Alleman".
  4. "The Alger Family".
  5. 1 2 Who Was Who in American History - the Military. Chicago: Marquis Who's Who. 1975. p. 6. ISBN   0837932017.
  6. Eicher, John H., and David J. Eicher, Civil War High Commands. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2001. ISBN   0-8047-3641-3. p. 101.
  7. Eicher, 2001, p. 739. A typographical error shows the confirmation date as March 12, 1865.
  8. Eicher, 2001, p. 739.
  9. Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography, edited by James Grant Wilson, John Fiske Six volumes, New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1887-1889.
  10. Berry, Dale. "Railroad History Story: Railroad Origins in Alpena, Michigan". RRHX: Michigan's Internet Railroad History Museum. Archived from the original on July 24, 2013. Retrieved December 15, 2013.
  11. The Official Railway List. Railway Purchasing Agent Company. 1888. p. 71.
  12. "Century, Florida - 100 years and still counting". The Alger-Sullivan Historical Society. Retrieved 2010-07-10.
  13. Folsom, Dr Burton W.; 7, published on Dec; 1998. "Russell Alger and the Spanish–American War".
  14. "Russell Alexander Alger - The World of 1898: The Spanish–American War (Hispanic Division, Library of Congress)".
  15. Russell Alexander Alger (1901). The Spanish–American War. Kessinger Publishing.
  16. Moore, Charles (1915). History of Michigan. II. Chicago: The Lewis Publishing Co. p. 687.
  17. "Chairmen of Senate Standing Committees 1789-Present" (PDF). Senate Historical Office. June 2008. p. 35. Retrieved 2009-05-07.
  18. "Camp Russell A. Alger Historical Marker".
  19. General Wheeler and Secretary of War Alger at Camp Wikoff (1898) on IMDb
  20. McSherry, Patrick. "Camp Wikoff".
  21. "Russell Alexander Alger Memorial Fountain" . Retrieved May 8, 2012.
  22. "Gazateer of Obscure Michigan Place Names". Herbarium, University of Michigan. Archived from the original on September 9, 2015. Retrieved July 28, 2015.
  23. Grosse Pointe War Memorial. Archived 2008-05-15 at the Wayback Machine
  24. "Welcome to the Alger Neighborhood - Alger Heights".
Party political offices
Preceded by
David Jerome
Republican nominee for Governor of Michigan
Succeeded by
Cyrus G. Luce
Political offices
Preceded by
Josiah Begole
Governor of Michigan
Succeeded by
Cyrus G. Luce
Preceded by
Daniel S. Lamont
United States Secretary of War
Succeeded by
Elihu Root
U.S. Senate
Preceded by
James McMillan
U.S. Senator (Class 2) from Michigan
Served alongside: Julius C. Burrows
Succeeded by
William Smith