Father William Corby, C.S.C.
The monument to Reverend Father William Corby, chaplain to the 88th New York, is south of Gettysburg on Hancock Avenue near the George Weickert Farm. (39.80345° N, 77.23438° W; map)
The bronze statue stands just under eight feet tall and was created by Samuel Murray. It shows Father Corby as he blessed and gave final absolution to the men of the Irish Brigade who were about to attack into the Wheatfield. It is believed the statue stands on the very boulder that Father Corby used on that day. The monument was dedicated on October 29, 1910.
A copy of the statue is outside Corby Hall at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana.
From the tablet below the statue:
To the memory
Rev. Father William Corby, C.S.C.
Chaplain 88th Regiment New York Infantry
2nd Brigade 1st Division 2nd Corps,
The Irish Brigade
July 2nd 1863.
From the marker beside the statue:
Reverend William E. Corby, C.S.C.
Congregation of Holy Cross.
This memorial depicts Father Corby,
a Chaplain of the Irish Brigade,
giving general absolution and blessing
before battle at Gettysburg,
July 2, 1863
President, University of Notre Dame
Plaque donated June 1963 by
The Philadelphia Alumni Club
of the University of Notre Dame
See the monument to the New York battalions of Father Corby's Irish Brigade at Gettysburg.
William E. Corby was born in Detroit on October 2, 1833, and attended Notre Dame, entering the novitiate in 1856 and taking his final vows in 1859.
When the war came in 1861 Notre Dame sent a number of priests to serve as chaplains with Union regiments. Father Corby left his professorship to become the first of these, assigned to the 88th New York in Brigadier General Thomas Meagher's legendary Irish Brigade.
Although Father Corby accompanied his men on many battlefields, giving comfort to the wounded and absolution to the dying, perhaps his greatest moment came at Gettysburg. Little more than 500 men remained of the original 3,000 veterans of the brigade, but they were to be sent to the rescue of the crumbling Union flank in a vicious maelstrom that would become known to history as The Wheatfield.
Father Corby donned his stole and mounted a large rock as the men of the brigade knelt, Catholic and Protestant alike. He offered absolution to the brigade, reminding them of their duties, warning them not to waver and to uphold the flag. Their attack bought precious time for the Union defenses but cost them dearly, with over one third of the brigade becoming casualties in a few moments.
After the war Father Corby became President of Notre Dame from 1866-72, then after a five year term at Sacred Heart College in Wisconsin returned to Notre Dame as President from 1877-82. He later became Provincial General and then Assistant General of the Congregation of the Holy Cross, as well as serving in several other posts.
In 1893 his veterans nominated Corby for the Medal of Honor, noting that "no spot was too dangerous or too much exposed to the fire of the enemy." Although he never received the medal, the veterans of the brigade presented him with a chalice that he would always cherish.
Father Corby's Memoirs of Chaplain Life: 3 Years in the Irish Brigade with the Army of the Potomac was publishd in 1893. It is still in print (see ad above right) and has been described as "one of the best Civil War diaries."
Father Corby died in 1897. In an unusual ceremony for a priest of the Holy Cross, his flag-draped casket was borne by civil war comrades and a rifle volley was fired as it was lowered into his grave.