(First published on 9/23/10) - On the broiling afternoon of July 2, 1863, just south of Gettysburg, Pa., a Catholic priest in a black frock coat mounted a rock and raised his right hand in the direction of a Union army unit known to history as “The Irish Brigade.” The brigade’s men were moments from marching to a soon-to-be-blood-soaked section of that historic battlefield, now called simply “The Wheatfield.”
As Father William Corby (monument, right), chaplain of the Brigade and son of an Irish immigrant father from Co. Offaly, began his absolution of the soldiers in Latin, all the brigade’s comrades in the 1st Division of the 2nd Corp of the Army of the Potomac within earshot, Catholic or not, bowed their heads to receive his blessing. It’s often been said that there are “no atheists in a foxhole,” so perhaps denominations become irrelevant, as well. For those who witnessed it, it was probably a moment they would never forget. For many onlookers, alas, there were but minutes left in their young lives to cling to the memory. It was surely one of the most poignant moments in what many consider the seminal event of that catastrophic war
Forty-seven years later, October 29, 1910, at that very spot in Gettysburg, the moment of that blessing was again “frozen in time,” but this time it was done literally, with a bronze statue of Father Corby. Father Corby himself had long since passed, but many of the no-longer-young men who had received that blessing from him were there to honor his memory. As the American flag draped over the statue fell away to unveil once again the sight of Father Corby’s hand rising above them, no doubt more than a few brushed a tear from their cheek.
The 100th anniversary of the dedication of the statue of Rev. William Corby on the Battlefield of Gettysburg took place on October 29, 2010.
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