Thursday, September 23, 2010

Honoring Father William “Fair Catch” Corby

On the broiling afternoon of July 2, 1863, just south of Gettysburg, Pa., a Catholic priest in a black frock coat mounted a rock and raised his right hand in the direction of a Union army unit known to history as “The Irish Brigade.” The brigade’s men were moments from marching to a soon-to-be-blood-soaked section of that historic battlefield, now called simply “The Wheatfield.”

As Father William Corby (monument, right), chaplain of the Brigade and son of an Irish immigrant father from Co. Offaly, began his absolution of the soldiers in Latin, all the brigade’s comrades in the 1st Division of the 2nd Corp of the Army of the Potomac within earshot, Catholic or not, bowed their heads to receive his blessing. It’s often been said that there are “no atheists in a foxhole,” so perhaps denominations become irrelevant, as well. For those who witnessed it, it was probably a moment they would never forget. For many onlookers, alas, there were but minutes left in their young lives to cling to the memory. It was surely one of the most poignant moments in what many consider the seminal event of that catastrophic war

Forty-seven years later, October 29, 1910, at that very spot in Gettysburg, the moment of that blessing was again “frozen in time,” but this time it was done literally, with a bronze statue of Father Corby. Father Corby himself had long since passed, but many of the no-longer-young men who had received that blessing from him were there to honor his memory. As the American flag draped over the statue fell away to unveil once again the sight of Father Corby’s hand rising above them, no doubt more than a few brushed a tear from their cheek.

Nearly one hundred years have now passed since that day, and we received the following communication from long time Irish Brigade researcher Robert McLernon:

The 100th anniversary of the dedication of the statue of Rev. William Corby on the Battlefield of Gettysburg will take place on October 29, 2010. I wish to see this event celebrated in an appropriate manner, and I am getting the word out to all I can. It is my hope that the Irish-American, Catholic, and Civil War communities of this nation will publicize this, and that it will become a major event.

The Father Corby Division, Ancient Order Of Hibernians, Fairfax County, Va., have informed me that they will host an event at this statue on October 29th of this year.

Here is the program according to the AOH website:

October 29, 2010 - 100th Anniversary Celebration of the Dedication of the Fr. Wm Corby Statue
Chaplain, 88th Regiment New York Infantry, 2nd Brigade 1st Division 2nd Corps,
The Irish Brigade 10:30am to 11:30am - Along Hancock Avenue,
Gettysburg National Military Park, Gettysburg, PA
Fr. Wm Corby Division is Program Host,
Color Guard, Music, Speaker & taps

Please reply to McLernon, at, if you plan to attend, and to get updates, or check back here at Hell’s Kitchen. If you represent an organization, please estimate how many members will attend when contacting McLernon.
We join Robert in urging anyone who can do so to attend this event honoring an Irish-American legend.

P.S.: Following the war Corby became president of Notre Dame University. A year after the statue was dedicated in Gettysburg a duplicate of it was dedicated at Notre Dame. In acknowledgment of the school’s football pedigree, the campus’ statue has become known as “Fair Catch” Corby to generations of students passing through the renowned institution. (JG)


Information on Father Corby from Robert McLernon

WGT’s Irish Brigade Shop

The Irish at Gettysburg

Memoirs of Chaplain Life: 3 Years in the Irish Brigade with the Army of the Potomac - by William Corby

The Irish Brigade and Its Campaigns – by David Power Conyngham

Irish Brigade In The Civil War: The 69th New York And Other Irish Regiments Of The Army Of The Potomac - by Joseph G. Bilby

1 comment:

Michelle said...

I own a 1893 publication of Fr Corby's Memoirs of a Chaplain's Life. Would you be able to point me in a direction to have it appraised?