Russell A. Alger

From Academic Kids

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Russell Alexander Alger (February 27, 1836January 24, 1907) was a U.S. Senator from the state of Michigan. He was supposedly a distant relation of Horatio Alger, although Russell Alger lived his own "rags-to-riches" success tale.

Alger was born in Lafayette Township in Medina County, Ohio. He was orphaned at age 12 and worked on a farm 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, Ohio and moved to Grand Rapids, Michigan in 1860 where he engaged in the lumber business. 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 Regiment. At Boonesville, Mississippi, 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 made 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. While pursuing the enemy on July 8, he was severely wounded at Boonesborough, Maryland. He participated in General Sheridan’s 1864 Shenandoah Valley Campaign in Virginia. On June 11, 1864, at Trevillian Station, Virginia, 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.

After the war, Alger settled in Detroit as head of Alger, Smith & Company and the Manistique Lumbering Company. Alger was elected Governor of Michigan in 1884, 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.

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"Alger's portrait as Secretary of war"

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. 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. in 1907. He was chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Coast Defenses and the U.S. Senate Committee on the Pacific Railroads, both in the Fifty-ninth Congress. He is interred in Elmwood Cemetery in Detroit, Michigan.

Alger County, Michigan is named for him. A monument, consisting of a bronze bust of Alger mounted on a stone pedestal, is located on the grounds of the William G. Mather High School 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.


  • 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.: 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, 1861-1865, Inc. and last National Secretary of the Grand Army of the Republic.
  • This article incorporates facts obtained from the public domain Biographical Directory of the United States Congress.

External links

Preceded by:
Daniel Scott Lamont
United States Secretary of War
Succeeded by:
Elihu Root
Preceded by:
Josiah Begole
Governor of Michigan
Succeeded by:
Cyrus G. Luce

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