Russell A. Alger, Governor of Michigan for the term commencing Jan. 1, 1885, was born in Lafayette Township, Median Co., Ohio, Feb. 27, 1836. Having lived a temperate life, he is a comparative young man in appearance, and possesses those mental faculties that are the distinguishing characteristics of robust, mature and educated manhood. When 11 years of age both his parents died, leaving him with a younger brothers and sister to support and without any of the substantial means of existence. Lacking the opportunity of better employment, he worked on a farm, in Richfield, Ohio, for the greater part of each of the succeeding seven years, saving money enough to defray his expenses at Richfield Academy during the winter terms. He obtained a very good English education, and was enabled to teach school for several subsequent winters. In 1857 he commenced the study of law in the offices of Wolcott & Upson at Akron, remaining until march 1859, when he was admitted to the bar by the Ohio Supreme court. He then removed to Cleveland, and entered the law office of Otis & Coffinbury, where he remained several months. here he continued his studies with increased zeal, and did much general reading. Hard study and close confinement to office work, however, began to tell on his constitution, and failing health warned him that he must seek other occupation. He therefor reluctantly abandoned the law and removed to Grand Rapids, Mich., to engage in the lumber business.
When Michigan was called upon to furnish troops for the war, Mr. Alger enlisted in the Second Mich. Cav. and was mustered into the service of the United States as Captain of Co. C. His record as a cavalry officer was brilliant and honorable to himself and his company. He participated in some of the fiercest contests of the rebellion and was twice wounded. His first injury was received in the battle of Booneville, Miss., July 2, 1862. His conduct in this engagement was so distinguished that he was promoted to the rank of Major. On the same occasion his colonel, the gallant Phil. Sheridan, was advanced to the rank of Brigadier-General. A few months later, on the 16th of October, major Alger became Lieutenant-Colonel of the sixth Mich. Cav., and was ordered with his regiment to the Army of the Potomac. After marked service in the early campaign of 1863, he was again advanced, and on June 2, received his commission as Colonel of the Fifth Mich. Cav. His regiment at this time was in Custer’s famous Michigan cavalry brigade. On the 6th of July occurred the battle of Boonesboro, Md. In this conflict he was again wounded. His health received a more than temporary impairment, and in October, 1864, he was obliged to retire from the service. His career as a soldier included many of the most celebrated contest of the war. He was an active character in all the battles fought by the Army of the Potomac, from the time of the invasion of Maryland by Gen. Lee in 1863, up to the date of his retirement, with the exception of those engagements which occurred while he was absent from duty on account of wounds. In all he took part in 66 battles and skirmishes. At the close he was breveted Brigadier General and Major General, for “gallant and meritorious services in the field.”
Aside from regular duty, Gen. Russell A. Alger was on private service during the winter of 1863-4, receiving orders personally from president Lincoln and visiting nearly all the armies in the field.
Gen. Russell A. Alger came to Detroit in 1865, and since that time has been extensively engaged in the pine timber business and in dealing in pinelands. He was a member of the well-known firm of Moore & Alger until its dissolution, when he became head of the firm of R. A. Alger & Co., the most extensive pine timber operators in the West. Gen. Russell A. Alger is now the president of the corporation of Alger, Smith & Co., which succeeded R. A. Alger & Co. He is also President of the Manistique Lumbering Company and president of the Detroit Bay City & Alpena Railroad Company, besides being a stockholder and director of the Detroit National Bank, the Peninsular Car Company and several other large corporations.
While always an active and influential Republican, Gen. Russell A. Alger has never sought nor held a salaried office. He was a delegate from the First District to the Republican National convention, but aside from this his connection with politics has not extended beyond the duties of every good citizen to his party and his country.
Gen. Russell A. Alger is now forty-nine years of age, an active, handsome gentleman, six feet tall, living the life of a busy man of affairs. His military bearing, at once, indicates his army life, and although slenderly built, his square shoulders and erect carriage give the casual observer the impression that his weight is fully 180 pounds. He is a firm, yet a most decidedly pleasant-appearing man, with a fine forehead, rather a prominent nose, an iron, gray moustache and chin whiskers and a full head of black hair sprinkled with gray. He is usually attired in the prevailing style of business suits. His favorite dress has been a high buttoned cutaway frock coat, with predominating cut of best and trousers, made of firm gray suiting. A high collar, small cravat, easy shoes and white plug hat complete his personal apparel. He is very particular as to his appearance, and always wears neat clothes of the best goods; but shuns any display of jewelry or extravagant embellishment. He is one of the most approachable men imaginable No matter how busy he may be, he always leaves his desk to extend a cordial welcome to every visitor, be he of high or low situation. His affable manners delight his guests, while his pleasing face and bright, dark eyes always animate his hearers.
Gen. Russell A. Alger is a hard worker. He is always at his office promptly in the morning and says as long as anything remains that demands his attention. In business matter he is always decided, and is never shaken or disturbed by an reverses. He has the confidence of his associates to a high degree, and all his business relations are tempered with those little kindnesses that relieve the tedium of routine office life. Although deeply engrossed in various business pursuits, Gen. Russell A. Alger has yet found time for general culture. He owns a large library and his stock of general information is as complete as it is reliable. His collection of paintings has been selected with rare good taste, and contains some of the finest productions of modern artists. His team of bays are perhaps the handsomest that grace the roads of Detroit, and usually lead the other outfits when their owner holds the reins.
Gen. Russell A. Alger has an interesting family. His wife was Annette H. Henry, the daughter of W. G. Henry, of Grand Rapids, to whom he was married April 2, 1861. She is a slender woman of fair complexion, bright and attractive, and a charming hostess. She is gifted with many accomplishments and appears quite young. There are six children. Fay, a lively brunette, and Caroline A., who is rather tall, and resembles her mother, have completed a course at an Eastern seminary, and during the past year traveled in Europe. The remaining members of the family are Frances, aged 13; Russell A., Jr., aged 11; Fred, aged 9; and Allan, aged 3. All are bright and promising children. Gen. Russell A. Alger makes his home at his handsome and large new residence on Fort street, at the corner of First street, Detroit.
Source: Chapman Brothers. Portrait and biographical record of Genesee, Lapeer and Tuscola counties, Michigan. Chicago: Chapman brothers, 1892.