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Russell Alexander Alger (February 27, 1836 January 24, 1907) was a Governor and U.S. Senator from the state of Michiganmarker 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.

Early life and career

Alger was born in Lafayette Township in Medina Countymarker, Ohiomarker. He was orphaned at age 12 and worked on a farm to support himself and two siblings. He attended Richfield Academy in Summit County, Ohiomarker, and taught country school for two winters. He studied law in Akron, Ohiomarker, and was admitted to the bar in March 1859. He first began to practice law in Clevelandmarker and moved to Grand Rapids, Michiganmarker, in 1860, where he engaged in the lumber business.On April 2, 1861, he married Annette H. Henry of Grand Rapidsmarker. 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.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, Michiganmarker, a palatial Italian Renaissance style estate, "The Moorings", which was donated in 1949 and became the Grosse Pointe War Memorialmarker, honoring veterans of World War II.Russell A. Alger had a home in Black Rivermarker which is in Alcona Township, Michiganmarker, 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, Pennsylvaniamarker, 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, Marylandmarker. He participated in General Sheridan’s Valley Campaigns of 1864 in Virginiamarker. 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 brevet 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.

After the war, Alger settled in Detroitmarker 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.

Russell A.

In the mid- to-late 1800s, and even all the way into the mid 1900s, the pine forests of South Alabama were prime sources of lumber for the booming economy of the United States and much of the world. Lumber producing mills seemed to spring up all over. The Alger-Sullivan Lumber Company was located in Century, Florida.

April 8, 2001, marked the one hundredeth known date of the use of the name, "Century," for the little sawmill town in northwest Florida. The term was taken to describe the beginnings of the community. Lore has it at that time the area was called "Teaspoon," the origin of which has several possible explanations. It is unlikely the area where the mill and the town were built was ever called "Teaspoon," since that entire 80 or so acres were the Mayo farm. The town was built at the turn of the 20th century (hence the town's name) by Yankee (northern) speculators General R. A. Alger of Detroit and Martin Sullivan, residing in Pensacola, but originally from New York state.

Sullivan and his brother had bought up large tracts of timber during the previous decades and after a small mill at Foshee, near Brewton, Escambia County, Alabama, proved profitable, this larger mill just across the State line in Florida was built. The original notion was that the timber would only last about 10 years or so.

The manager, E.A. Hauss, also from Detroit, planned for and allowed creative cutting and replanting in the forests, thus the mill in Century ran for almost 50 additional years! It produced more southern pine board feet per year than any other mill in the entire south for many years of its existence. See other photos for a little more of the life around this thriving industry of Northwest Florida and South Alabama.

The mill has now been closed for many years.


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 Cubamarker, Puerto Rico, and the Philippinesmarker. 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. "Algerism" became an epithet to describe the claimed incompetence of the army, especially as compared to the more stellar performance of the navy. 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.

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.marker in 1907. During a memorial address in rememberance of Senator Alger, Senator John Spooner of Wisconsinmarker 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." He was chairman of the Senate Committee on Pacific Railroads during the 59th Congress. He is interred in Elmwood Cemeterymarker in Detroit, Michiganmarker.


Alger County, Michiganmarker 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, Michiganmarker. 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. 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.

Established in May, 1898, Camp Russell A. Alger was named for the Secretary of War. It was placed on a 1,400-acre farm called "Woodburn Manor". 23,000 men trained there for service in the Spanish-American War. The large military population greatly impacted the lives of the residents of the small communities of Falls Churchmarker and Dunn Loring, Virginiamarker. Faced with a typhoid fever epidemic, it was abandoned in August 1898, and sold the following month. It is commenorated by an official Virginia historical marker.

Alger, Michiganmarker is also named after him. It is a small community founded in the late-1800's located in the lower peninsula of the state. It was named after Russell Alger as he oversaw lumbering and railroad operations in that area at the time. See also, Black River, Michiganmarker.

The Grosse Pointe War Memorialmarker is housed in one of the Alger family's former homes.

The Southeast side Grand Rapids, Michiganmarker neighborhood Alger Heights is named after him.

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


  • Dictionary of American Biography
  • Bell, Rodney E. "A Life of Russell Alexander Alger." Ph.D. dissertation, University of Michigan, 1975
  • U.S. Congress. Memorial Addresses for Russell Alexander Alger. 59th Cong., 2nd sess. Washington, D.C.marker: Government Printing Office, 1907.
  • Michigan Historical Commission. 1924. Michigan Biographies: Russell Alger, Lansing.
  • Michigan Commandery of the Military of the Loyal Legion of the United States.
  • Final Journal of the Grand Army of the Republic, 1957. Compiled by Cora Gillis, Jamestown, New York, Past National President, Daughters of Union Veterans of the Civil War from 1861 to 1865, Inc. and last National Secretary of the Grand Army of the Republic.
 Retrieved on 2008-02-11

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