He was born on August 13, 1865, in the city of Volojino, Russia. He had three sons: George and Jacob (1892-1976, an artist, pictured left with his father in 1937) who survived him; and Alexander, who was killed by the Bolsheviks in 1918.
He graduated from the Naval Engineering Academy in 1886 and in 1894 from the General Staff Academy. During the Russo-Japanese War he commanded a regiment. During the First World War he commanded the Brigade of the 40th Division, the 42nd Division, and later the XX Army Corps. As commander of the 42nd Infantry Division, he received the St George Sword (formerly Gold Sword for Bravery) for his bravery and victory over the Germans. He was poisoned by gas on the German front during the First World War.
He became a naturalized citizen of the United States after the Russian Revolution. As a great humanitarian and scholar, General A.J. Elshin received an Honorary Membership in the American International Academy, Washington, D.C. He was made an honorary member of Andhra University, India, as a research scholar in 1937. He was Chairman of the National Russian Veterans Society.
He died on September 25, 1951, in Seattle, Washington, U.S.A. He is buried in the mausoleum of the Memorial Monument, Church of St. Nicholas, Washelli Cemetery, Seattle, Washington.