The Reverend William Corby, the religious leader of the Irish Brigade was born on October 2nd 1833.
William Corby the son of Daniel and Elizabeth Corby was born October 2nd 1833 in Detroit Michigan. He was educated in local Detroit schools, until at the age of sixteen he joined his father’s real estate business. Corby started feeling a desire to go to college and recieving a calling to the priesthood was sent in 1853 to the University of Notre Dame in South Bend Indiana. By 1859 the then Father William Corby was the “Prefect of Discipline” at Notre Dame.
The Catholic Church had no official view on the Civil War. At Notre Dame there was a prohibition from discussion views of either the Union or Confederate cause. Father Corby in 1861 resigned his professorship at Notre Dame and joined the Chaplains’ Corp. He was assigned to the 88th New York’s famed Irish Brigade. He ministered to needs of Catholic soldiers three years, finding himself often under fire as he moved among the casualties and spent days in the field hospitals offering comfort and absolution.
On July 2nd 1863 the Irish Brigade was called to restore the line on the Wheat Field at Gettysburg. It was here that Father William Corby spoke to the men from a rock in the field, before they entered the battle, offering them absolution. He was said to have spoke to them about duties, telling the men that the Church would not offer a Christin burial to any who wavered on the field. The men were told to confess their sins correctly at their earliest opportunity. The Irish Brigade then went into battle, 198 of the men who had received Father Corby’s blessing would be dead by the end of the day. A bronze statue of Father Corby was dedicated on the Gettysburg battlefield October 29th 1910, the only such memorial to a chaplain.
Following the war Father Corby went back to Notre Dame, where he became Vice President, and a year latter the University President. In 1877 as President of the college he oversaw the rebuilding of the school after it was nearly destroyed by fire. In 1888 the Father was invited to the 25th reunion of the Irish Brigade at Gettysburg. The veterans of the 88th campaigned to have Father Corby awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. The medal was never granted.
On December 28th 1897 Father William Corby died of pneumonia. His casket was not carried as was the custom by fellow priest, but by Civil War veterans. His coffin draped in the flag of his regiment a rifle volley fired as he was lowered into the ground.