2 July 1863: The Irish Brigade of the Army of the Potomac fought at Gettysburg on this day. In one of the most famous incidents of the American Civil War they were blessed and granted general absolution by Father William Corby, the Brigade Chaplain, in front of thousands of their comrades in arms who witnessed this awe inspiring spectacle.
Little more than 500 men remained of the original 3,000 veterans of the brigade, but they were to be sent to the rescue of the crumbling Union flank in a vicious maelstrom that would become known to history as The Wheatfield. Father Corby donned his stole and mounted a large rock as the men of the brigade knelt, Catholic and Protestant alike. He offered absolution to the whole brigade, reminding them of their duties and warning them not to waver and to uphold the flag. Their attack bought precious time for the Union defenses but cost them dearly, with over one third of the brigade becoming casualties.
Today on the battlefield a statue stands upon the rock where the Chaplain gave his famous blessing. It reads:
"Reverend William E. Corby, C.S.C. Congregation of Holy Cross. This memorial depicts Father Corby, a Chaplain of the Irish Brigade, giving general absolution and blessing before the battle at Gettysburg, July 2, 1863. President, University of Notre Dame 1866-72 1877-81."