Father Corby Offers Absolution To The Irish Brigade, July 2, 1863
Father Corby was one of a handful of priests from Notre Dame University who joined regiments in the Union Army. Corby became part of the 88th New York Infantry, as part of the beloved and heroic Irish Brigade.
July 2, 1863, to the south, the men of the Third Corps were suffering great casualties. As the 88th New York prepared to storm The Wheatfield, Father Corby mounted a large rock and offered the men – just 500 of the 3,000 remaining – absolution for their sins. There are various accounts of what was actually said,
One account reads..
He decided, due to the certainty that many of the men of the brigade would soon die, to give a mass absolution, an application of the sacrament unknown in America. Father Corby sternly reminded the soldiers of their duties, warning that the Church would deny Christian burial to any who wavered in their duty. The members of the Brigade were instructed to confess their sins to a priest in the usual manner at their earliest opportunity. Then the entire brigade knelt, Catholics and Protestants alike. Father Corby raised his right arm and recited the ancient words of forgiveness.
The regiment faced fierce fire from the Confederates that afternoon and lost more than a third of their men within minutes. They fought bravely, and survivors remembered their moment with Father Corby well, so well in fact that they fought to have him issued The Medal of Honor in 1893. And while their request was denied, Father Corby is forever memorialized on the Gettysburg battlefield – and some say on the very rock in which he offered absolution.