William Corby

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Catholic chaplains of the Irish Brigade, 1862. Fr. Corby is in the front row, right.

Father William Corby, CSC (October 2, 1833 – December 28, 1897) was an American priest of the Congregation of Holy Cross, and a Union Army chaplain in the American Civil War attached to the Irish Brigade. He later served twice as President of the University of Notre Dame.

Biography[edit]

Father William Corby (1903-10) by Samuel Murray, Gettysburg Battlefield, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

He was born in Detroit, Michigan, to Daniel Corby, an Irish immigrant, and his wife Elizabeth, a Canadian. He attended public school until age 16, then joined his father's real estate business. In 1853, he enrolled in the 10-year-old College of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana, and began study for the priesthood three years later. Following ordination, he taught at Notre Dame, and served as a local parish priest.

Following his service in the Civil War, he returned to Notre Dame and served as its vice-president, 1865–66; and president, 1866–72 and 1877-81. His memoir of the Irish Brigade became a best-seller.

Irish Brigade[edit]

He is perhaps best known for giving general absolution to the Irish Brigade on the second day of the Battle of Gettysburg. Of the Brigade's original 3,000 men, only about 500 remained, and more than a third of them were killed or wounded in the battle. The scene of Fr. Corby blessing the troops was dramatized in the 1993 film Gettysburg.

A statue by Samuel Murray – Father Corby, with right hand raised in the gesture of blessing – stands upon the same boulder on which the priest stood while blessing the troops that morning. It was the first statue of a non-general erected on the Gettysburg Battlefield, and was dedicated in 1910.[1]

He is widely remembered among military chaplains and celebrated by Irish-American fraternal organizations. Corby Hall at Notre Dame is named for him, and a copy of the Gettysburg statue stands outside the building. An organization of Notre Dame alumni is named The William Corby Society.[2]

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