Father William Corby is not a name you hear mentioned every day. In fact, unless you live in South Bend or a Civil War buff– you probably never heard of him.
Let me fix that for you -
Father Corby was priest of the Congregation of Holy Cross, a Union Army Chaplain at the battle of Gettysburg and twice the President of the University of Notre Dame.
Before Rockne put the “Fighting Irish” on the map (bit of trivia – they were originally called the Ramblers) – Father Corby was breaking out the Irish Heritage by being the priest of the “Irish Brigade”
It was on the second day of the Battle of Gettysburg, July 2nd 1863, that Father Corby stood upon a boulder and gave absolution to the Union Soldiers (both Catholic and Protestants) before they headed into the battle commonly known as “The Wheatfield”.
His blessings inspired the already decimated unit (who had already been reduced from 3000 soldiers to 500) and they helped lead an attack to shore up the crumbling Union left flank. If not for this counter, some doubt the Union army could have regrouped – and the Battle of Gettysburg could have turned out much different. It was deemed relevant enough to actually be included in the movie Gettysburg -
Fr. Corby followed his men out onto the battlefield, fearlessly giving comfort to the wounded and absolution to the dying. For his bravery, the men of the Irish Brigade nominated him for the Congressional Medal of Honor – stating: "no spot was too dangerous or too much exposed to the fire of the enemy." – It was through this level of courage at several battles throughout the Civil War, that Fr. Corby earned the moniker – The Fighting Chaplain.
Of the ragtag Brigade that took the field that day – 198 of the 500 did not live to see the next. Fr. Corby did, and he returned to Notre Dame, where he served his two terms as President and helped rebuild the University after the fire in .
Fr. Corby died in 1897, and his funeral took an unusual turn – as his pallbearers were not priests or members of the Holy Cross Community, but instead Civil War Veterans. I am sure this is one of the few times a Priest was buried at Notre Dame with a flag draped coffin and 21 Gun Salute.
Of course, this wouldn’t be Smokes and Booze without some sort of “Reference”….and for this, I point you to “Corby’s Irish Pub”. A long time staple in South Bend, Corby’s is a mid level pub that is more “Sports Bar” than Irish….but it is very Notre Dame themed, and good luck if you want to get in there on a Game Day Weekend. The pub even made an appearance in Rudy (although I can’t find a clip of it). A must stop for any Irish Fan.
So – as we enter this 150th Anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, take a moment to not only think of the brave men from both sides of the battlefield – but also remember that Irish American Priest from a small University in nowhere Indiana. Remember, that – without ever picking up a rifle, he exemplified bravery and dedication to his craft, risking his own life just as surely as those aforementioned soldiers. He did this as his duty – and for that, he should be remembered.
If anyone who reads this is on Campus – please light a candle for me at the Grotto, in honor of Fr. William Corby- A Real Irish American Hero.