Historic Elmwood Cemetery & Foundation

Historic Elmwood Cemetery & Foundation

Where Detroit's History Endures

Russell A. Alger

algerrBorn in Ohio in 1836, Alger was to become a major figure in Michigan and national history. Orphaned at the age of twelve, he continued his education while supporting a younger brother and sister. He was admitted to the Ohio bar in 1859. In late 1859, he moved to Grand Rapids where he started in the lumber business.

At the outbreak of the Civil War, Alger enlisted in the 2nd Michigan Calvary. He was appointed Captain of Company C. His later commissions were: Major in the 2nd Michigan Cavalry, Lieutenant Colonel in the 6th Michigan Cavalry and Colonel in the 5th Michigan Cavalry. He served in over 60 battles and skirmishes during the war, including the battles of Gettysburg and at Booneville, Mississippi. He was wounded four times during the war. At the war’s end, he was awarded the rank of Brigadier and then Major General. General Alger was elected Commander-in-Chief of the Grand Army of the Republic in 1889. He helped improve pensions for Civil War veterans.

After the war, he returned to Detroit with his wife, the former Annette Henry of Grand Rapids. The Alger’s had nine children, only six surviving to adulthood. He resumed his expanding lumber business as well as interests in banking, manufacturing and railroads.

Alger took an active part in Republican politics as one of the founders of the party at the organizational meeting in Jackson, Michigan.  He assisted with the draft of the first Republican platform seeking to abolish slavery. He was elected Governor of Michigan in 1884. He served only one term, 1885-1886, and declined the nomination for a second term. Working behind the scenes, he played an instrumental part in the election of President McKinley. The President appointed Alger to the post of Secretary of War. Alger resigned the post in 1899. After the death of U. S. Senator James McMillan, Michigan Governor Austin Blair appointed Alger to fill the term. He was elected to a full term by the Michigan Legislature in 1903. Alger died in Washington, D. C. in 1907.

Born: February 27, 1836
Died: January 24, 1907
Entombed: Alger Mausoleum, Section 10

Alger is listed in Elmwood’s Underground Railroad Network to Freedom Self-Guided Tour Map.


This material is based upon work assisted by a grant from the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH), funded by the Department of the Interior, National Parks Service. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in the material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASALH or the Department of the Interior. Elmwood Cemetery’s Network to Freedom Application was completed by Dr. Carol Mull and Gabrielle Lucci. This biography was completed based upon the Application and records available through Elmwood Cemetery, Detroit Historical Society, Burton Historical Library, Military Records of the United States, Michigan Historical Center, and various information sources.

Russell A Alger memorial web