Christian Garber · 1976
By Joseph Patrick Nicholson
Michael Christian Garber was born in Augusta County, Virginia, April 7, 1813. He was of German and Scotch-Irish descent though his ancestors emigrated to America nearly a century before. The family belonged to a German-Quaker sect and entertained the views of the Friends on the question of war. Garber’s father, however, while yet a young man, was moved by the martial spirit to slip away from home and join the army of Washington when it passed through the area, and was never a practicing Quaker afterward. The family was large, with Michael being the tenth child.
For the first sixteen years of his life he remained at home, at Stauton, Virginia, with his parents, who owned a large estate in Augusta County, called Lebanon. The family business interests included farming, manufacturing, and the operation of a transportation company. The employment of Garber’s boyhood was in connection with a line of stagecoaches owned and operated by his father in a large district of Virginia. Thus, he acquired a practical knowledge of the transportation business at an early age. He later laid the foundation for the skill exhibited in his country’s service during the civil war. He also imbibed from his father the germs of those freer notions which were fostered in the wholesome home atmosphere until they developed into a sturdy principle of hostility to slavery and oppression. This, later on, qualified him for conscientious leadership in the political party founded for the enlargement of human rights and the restriction of servitude.
At the age of sixteen, Michael Garber became associated with his uncle as a clerk in a merchandising business at Holidaysburg, Pennsylvania. Later, he and his uncle became contractors on the Chesapeake and Ohio canal, then under construction. From 1832 until 1840 he was a member of the firm of Garber and O’Connor, whose business was "forwarding" (transporting freight) by canal and railroad between Pittsburg and Philadelphia. For a short time after that, Garber and a partner, George McFarland, were engaged in operating a foundry until the business crash of 1843. Michael Garber was married December 20, 1837, to Ellinor Schell, whose father was, at one time, speaker of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. They had three daughters and two sons.
In the spring of 1846 he and some relatives started for Missouri, but the party was broken up by death when they reached Florence, Kentucky, where they remained for some time. He later continued his journey as far as Rising Sun, Indiana, where he engaged in general merchandising business with his brother for several years.
In early 1849, a business trade was completed with S.F. and John B. Covington, the owners of the Madison Courier. The Covingtons thus entered the merchandising business and Garber left it to become a newspaper publisher in Madison, Indiana. Garber had no previous experience in the newspaper profession. The Madison Courier had been founded in 1837 as a weekly newspaper and became a daily newspaper in 1849. Under Covington, the paper had supported the Democratic party. Garber operated the newspaper until his death in 1881 from a brain hemorrhage. He was buried at Madison with Masonic honors. The Madison Courier was still published in 1978 by the Garber family.
The Madison Courier was the first newspaper in Indiana to subscribe to the New York Associated Press group, which was the forerunner of modern day press associations. The publishing plant kept pace with mechanical developments too. Steam took over the task of running the press in 1853, relieving the staff members of a difficult manual task. In 1854, a spacious three-story building was purchased as the new home for the newspaper which allowed plenty of room for future growth. The newspaper was published in this building for seventy-two years.
Most noteworthy of Michael Garber’s journalistic contributions were the results of a clash between him and Senator Jesse D. Bright of Indiana in 1850-1852. Garber was also a Democrat and kept the Madison Courier a Democratic organ as his predecessor had. Senator Bright had no financial interest in the newspaper. Except on the question of slavery the Senator and Garber were in political accord, and Garber could support the Senator without doing violence to his convictions. This he did and the relations of the two men were, at first, friendly. The Senator wrote appreciative letters to Garber from Washington commending his paper and complimenting him on his editorials.
Soon it developed that it was not expected that a Bright paper, and especially one published in the Senator’s home town, should print anything that did not accord with the Senator’s views, or what made matters worse, say anything complimentary about his rivals. Notwithstanding, the newspaper published an editorial denouncing the Fugitive Slave Law as repugnant to the feelings of a man living in a free state. Senator Bright, who owned slaves in Kentucky, helped in the enactment of the Fugitive Slave Law and was unhappy about printed news items detailing distressing instances of injustice and inhumanity accompanying efforts to enforce it in this and other states. Later on, Garber became involved in a fight with a member of the Bright political camp over his editorial views and sustained stab wounds which almost proved fatal.
The question surfacing was who should control the columns of a party paper, it proprietor and editor or a political boss. Garber would not let the Senator run the newspaper to his political benefit. During the following months, sympathizers of Senator Bright started a rival newspaper, the Madisonian. Soon, though, this newspaper found its grave.
This was the first major attempt of a national political leader to crush independent journalism in Indiana. This attempt failed because of the beliefs and fearless actions take by publisher Garber and the Madison Courier. As an editor and publisher Garber accepted no man’s dictum. He possessed an unusual independence of character and formed his own conclusions. While always reasonable, he defied the generally accepted leadership in his own party, when it stood opposed to his own sense of right, evidence of strong moral courage and self-reliance. Because of this, he realized that he no longer belonged in the ranks of the Democratic party which stood for states rights, slavery, secession, and disunion at that time.
In service to its readers, the Madison Courier published such documents as the new state constitution, the complete report of the Select Committee of Thirteen on the Slavery Compromise, and the testimony of the Webster-Parkman trial. Debates in the state and national legislature bodies were frequently printed in their entirety. It was unusual for small town papers at that time to print such material in full context.
In 1856, when the Republican party made its first campaign in Indiana, Garber attached himself to it, and continued in its ranks until he died. He assisted in making the state platform of the party that year, and in 1858 he was chosen chairman of the State Central Committee. Garber had also been a delegate from Indiana to the first Republican convention held in Pittsburg in 1856. He also helped to organize a Republican Association for Jefferson County in the early days of the party. In the 1860 presidential election Garber was a staunch supporter of Lincoln. Garber made an unsuccessful race for treasurer of Jefferson County in 1860, the only time he was ever a candidate himself for public office.
In 1861, David C. Branhorn, then in the secret service of the government, suggested to the Secretary of War the appointment of Garber as an army quartermaster. General Cameron, the Secretary, had known Garber in Pennsylvania, and was well acquainted with the fact that the latter had great knowledge of the subject of transportation. At once, to his surprise, Garber was commissioned as a brigade quartermaster with the rank of captain. He entered the service and was assigned to the brigade of General Carter in Kentucky. Soon afterwards, for conspicuous gallantry in the battle of Mill Spring, he was brevetted to major.
Reassigned to the Thirteenth Corps, Army of the Tennessee, at Vicksburg, Garber won the cordial friendship of General McClernand. He was a fighting quartermaster, taking a position near the commander to whose staff he was attached, ready for duty during the engagements. Garber was again promoted, this time to the rank of colonel. He was assigned as chief quartermaster of the Army of the Tennessee and was with it during the Atlanta campaign. When Sherman started on his march to the sea, Colonel Garber was ordered to Louisville, Kentucky. Subsequently, he joined Sherman at Savanah, and was appointed chief quartermaster of Sherman’s army.
Garber assumed responsibility in emergencies and always ruled in favor of the men as against red tape regulations of the department. When a large detachment of prisoners, rescued from Andersonville, was brought into camp he clothed them and supplied their wants without waiting for a requisition. His display of executive ability and courage and tact as a quartermaster were acknowledged and complimented repeatedly by General Sherman, in terms expressing the highest esteem. He remained with the general until the war ended, and was present at the grand review at Washington, when General Sherman refused to take the hand of Secretary Stanton, and publicly turned his back upon him. Garber remained in the army about one month after the war had ended and declined a commission in the regular army. He returned to Madison and resumed his newspaper work in July 1865.
In 1872 Garber was appointed postmaster at Madison, after which time the newspaper was mainly conducted by his oldest son. He held this office until his death and it was the only civil office which he ever held. Garber was known throughout the area as a vigorous and hard working man, and as an honored and influential leader.
Garber suffered a brain hemorrhage while at work in his office at the newspaper and died five days later on April 8, 1881. Garber had always been an asset to the city of Madison as a civic leader. Through his influence and newspaper he had done much to promote the growth and development of early Madison, Indiana.