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Father Corby
88th NY Infantry

From: Bob Lawrence
Subject: Re: Gen. Meade and Lord Nelson & Father Corby

Bill Cameron wrote:

<>>Corps and other commanders are authorized to order the instant death of
<>>any soldier who fails in his duty at this hour.
<>> By command of Major-General Meade;

<>> <> <>Hello, Bill,
<> <> Lord Nelson's flags signalled "England expects every man to do his duty
<>" before Trafalgar. Meade's order seems a little more menacing. Was this
<>order unusual, or was it normal for nervous CW comanders before a battle?
<> <>Dennis

<> <>Actually, I paraphrased Nelson's flags - I'm not much of a signal corps
<>expert on land or sea!

Let us not forget Father Corby's admonition to the Irish Brigade on the afternoon of July 2-" The Catholic Church refuses Christian burial to the soldier who turns his back upon the foe or deserts his flag."

Bob Lawrence

From: ( Benedict R Maryniak )
Subject: Corby didn't say it!

Whoa! From t-shirts to general absolution! The colonel of the 116th PA made up that story about Corby threatening the Irish Brigade. The original of Corby's letter about his Gburg "speech" is at the Gburg NMP library. I have a copy if anyone's interested. Father Bill was too much of a soldier's friend to get that jingoistic. Besides, there are very few recordings of pre-battle catch phrases - most of 'em sound a little too polished. My pick for a goofy pre-battle sentiment is Albert S Johnston's message the night before Shiloh, which assured his men that the eyes of eight million Southerners rested upon them, and hoped they would expel the agrarian mercenaries from their soil. Hey! Three million of those observers were slaves!

Benedict Maryniak

From: ( Dennis Lawrence )
Subject: Corby did too say it!

Well, maybe Corby said it.

As I alluded before, the statement attributed to Corby that the Catholic Church would deny Christian burial to those who refused to do their duty struck me as exactly the type of rhetoric an Irish Catholic priest would use - having been threatened with worse for daring much less.

I got interested enough to haul down Harry Pfanz's _Gettysburg the Second Day_. He follows the traditional version (268). What strikes me as interesting is that Pfanz's footnotes usually discuss alternative versions. He does not do so this time although surely he must have been aware of Corby's letter at the GNMP library having spent some years there as historian. Pfanz uses three source for this section. One is from from the _Bachelder papers_ V I page 421. Major Mullohand of the 116th Pa. is the source here. He does *not* mention Corby's threat as he recounts the scene. The other two sources are not as easy for me to check.

Would those of you with _Pennsylvania at Gettysburg_ V II check Pfanz's source on page 479 and those of you with _NY at Gburg_ to check his source on page 515. I am curious if all three are from Mullohand.

And, yes. I would most definitely be interested in seeing a copy of Corby's letter.


Speaking of Mulohand, it was his description of the dead body of a young soldier he passed near the Wheatfield that forms the basis for the soldier on the 116th Pa. monument in the loop. A very moving granite sculpture in contrast to the stern bronzed Corby. I mean the guy LOOKS mean!

From: lawrence ( Dennis Lawrence )
Subject: Meade's Execution Order/Corby

Thanks for the posts on executions in the CW. The information supports the notion that the underpinnings of Meade's order was fimly entrenched in the CW soldier's mind. Seems like even though most commanders did not issue such writen reminders, Meades' order would not be perceived as anything new by troops as it reiterated SOP for both sides.

So, in response to the question as to whether we can make any judgements about morale and motivation in the two forces by contrasting this order with Pickett's plea for Virginia before he followed his men to slaughter, the answer would appear to be no.


BTW - maybe Corby didn't say it - but brother Bob and I have had worse directed at us from behind the drawn veil of the confessional during in our misspent teenage years!

From: ( Alexander Cameron )
Subject: Corby

I think the modern secondary source for the Corby tale is Glenn Tucker's HIGH TIDE AT GETTYSBURG. Tucker really went into the human intrest stuff and spent a couple of paragraphs describing the scene (Coddington does not even mention Corby) including the "threat". Tucker's source is page 623 of PENN AT GB. He is qouting Muholland.


Subject: Re: Corby did too say it!

Hi Dennis and all,
Pennsylvania at Gettysburg Vol. 2 begins with page 610, so there is no page 479 in that volume to reference. Page 479 in Vol. 1 begins the description of the dedication for the 88th Pennsylvania monument (fought on Oak Ridge, mustered from my home town, Reading, Pa.) and contains no allusions to Father Corby and his ceremony of general absolution. However, I think the speech of Bvt Major-Gen St. Clair A. Mulholland, given at the dedication ceremonies for the 116th Pa. Regiment, Sept. 11, 1889, is what you are looking for to prove your point. On page 627 of Pennsylvania at Gettysburg Vol. 2, 1914 ed. he says:

"Father Corby stood upon a large rock in front of the brigade. Addressing the men, he explained what he was about to do, saying that each one could receive the benefit of the absolution by making a sincere act of contrition and firmly resolving to embrace the first opportunity of confessing their sins, urging them to do their duty well, and reminding them of the high and sacred nature of their trust as soldiers and the noble object for which they fought, ending by saying that the Catholic Church refuses Christian burial to the soldier who turns his back upon the foe or deserts his flag."

There is only a small reference made to this event on page 515 of NY at Gettysburg. Pg 515 contains the historical sketch of the 88th NY regiment by Capt. W.L.D. O'Grady in which O'Grady says:

"And the absolution under fire by our chaplain, who hasn't received a Medal of Honor (Father William Corby, now the Right Rev. General C.S.C. Notre Dame University, Notre Dame, Indiana)*, is, perhaps, the most picturesque as well as solemn of any incident of the war, and one of the best known." (*recently deceased).

I have to agree with you. I too have heard threats of much more for much less. The spectre of non-christian burial is exactly the kind of devotion inspiring rhetoric I would expect to hear from a fighting-irish Catholic priest.

Terry Moyer

From: ( Benedict R Maryniak )
Subject: Corby

Everything about Chaplain Corby's Wheatfield "threat" to deny Catholic burial is based on 116th PA Colonel Mulholland's accounts. I don't think we'd be having this controversy if any of you were familiar with the 116th PA history by Mulholland. St. Clair Augustine Mulholland achieved some notoriety for his moving oration portraying the Irish Brigade's fight at Gettysburg and Father Corby's granting of absolution. This was just the sort of account that Douglas Southall Freeman was wont to discard as reliable history, however, warning that the story was "embroidered" a bit more with each performance until the original fabric of truth was covered. By September 11, 1889, when Mulholland spoke as part of ceremonies dedicating the 116th's monument at Gettysburg, he had already added quite a few stitches. Regarding Father Corby, the brevet General eloquently but mistakenly termed his general absolution of July 2, 1863, as the first ever witnessed on this continent. In reality, Chaplain Joe O'Hagan had performed the same rite for men of Sickles' Excelsior Brigade earlier that day. Moreover, Chaplain Corby had administered general absolution before, amid fighting more harrowing, and always prefaced it with the same statements. He would explain the conditions of a general absolution, urge the men to do their duty well, speak of their responsibilities as soldiers, and end with a statement that the "Catholic church refuses Christian burial to the soldier who turns his back upon the foe or deserts the flag." Though it is likely that the Catholic church might have refused, it is impossible to imagine "Father Bill" following through on that threat.

Regarding Pfanz, Corby's letter to Bachelder was given to the Gettysburg library within the last few years. As good as it is, Pfanz makes his share of mistakes in The Second Day book. For example, he talks about the 140th NYV charging down the slope of LRT in their colorful zouave uniforms when the 140th wore sack coats until the Spring of 1864. Pfanz aimed to collect as many Second Day anecdotes as he could and this sometimes meant inclusion of a few questionable tales because they were so famous.

I'm sending Corby's letter to Bachelder in a separate e-mail.


From: ( Benedict R Maryniak )
Subject: Corby to Bachelder

Notre Dame, Ind
Jan 4 1879
To - Col John B Bachelder,
Chelsea, Mass

Dear Sir - I rec'd a letter from St Clair Mulholland, late Brevt Maj Gen - an old friend - asking me to write up a few outlines of the general absolution given at Gettysburg PA. Enclosed please find said lines which in the past few minutes I have hastily scratched off. I kept no notes of my army life & had to depend entirely on my memory for the rude sketch I have given you. To praise the Brigade or to say anything of my own career in the army I leave to some person who has more time & ability than I. Most of our Brigade were from New York City & there are a number of officers there who knew me well.

I will simply say here that I was with the "Army of the Potomac" - in all the principal battles - except the 1st Bull Run.

You may use as much or as little of what I send as you may see fit. I gave facts only - but poorly put together.

Very Respectfully Yours, W Corby CSC

PS Would be glad to have a few copies of your history when published.

Scene of a Religious Character on the Historic Battlefield of Gettysburg

Several days prior to this battle, the "Army of the Potomac" under the command of Genl Meade was continually on the march. The day before the battle, the 2d Army Corps left Frederick City MD about 5 in the morning & halted at 12 (midnight) to rest during the balance of the night on the cold wet ground, and next morning opened fire on the enemy with artillery. The enemy responded in full numbers. Shells were bursting thick & fast all morning over the 2d Army Corps until finally all the troops were drawn up in line of battle.

The men were ordered to "prime" & now everything was ready for the word "advance." At this moment, the Very Rev W Corby CSC, Chaplain of the Irish Brigade (the only priest then in the Army of the Potomac - now President of Notre Dame University, Indiana), stepped in front of the battle line & addressed the men & officers (in substance) as follows.

"My Dear Christian Friends! In consideration of the want of time for each one to confess his sins in due order as required for the reception of the sacrament of Penance, I will give you general absolution. But, my dear friends, while we stand here & in the presence of Eternity, so to speak, with a well-armed force in front & with missiles of death in the form of shells bursting over our heads, we must humble ourselves before the great Creator of all men & acknowledge our great unworthiness & conceive a heartfelt sorrow for the sins by which we have ungratefully offended the Divine Author of all good things. Him Whom we ought to love, we have despised by sinning against his laws. Him Whom we should have honored by lives of virtue, we have dishonored by sin."

"We stand in debt to our great Lord & Master. He loves us but we, by sin, have forfeited that love. Now, to receive a full pardon for our sins & regain the favor of God, do not think it is sufficient to get the priest's absolution. It is true as a minister of God he has recd the power to pronounce your sins absolved. 'Whose sins you shall forgive they are forgiven' - John 20, 23 - by virtue of this power given the Apostles & their lawful successors, the priest acts. But the absolution - pronounced by the priest or by St Peter himself - would be worthless unless the penitent conceives a true sorrow for his sins. Which sorrow should include a firm determination never more to willfully offend & to do all in his power to atone for the past sins. Therefore, my dear friends, in the solemn presence of Eternity, excite in your minds a deep sorrow for all the sins, negligences, & transgressions of your past lives. 'Rend your hearts & not your garments,' & I the consecrated minister of God will give you general absolution."

At this moment, all fell on their knees & recited an act of contrition. Officers mounted waiting to advance removed their hats, and then the Chaplain, in solemn fervent tones pronounced the words of Absolution. A few minutes after, all were plunged into the dense smoke of battle.

A more impressive scene, perhaps, never took place on any battlefield. It was indeed so earnest & truly sublime that non-Catholics prostrated themselves in humble adoration of the true God while they felt that perhaps in less than half an hour their eyes would open to see into the Ocean of Eternity.

Dominus noster Jesus Christus vos absolvat, et ego, auctoritate ispsius, vos absolvo ab omni vinculo, excommunicationis interdicti, in quantum possum et vos indigetis deinde ego absolvo vos, a pecatis vestris, in nomini Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti, Amen.

From: lawrence ( Dennis Lawrence )
Subject: Corby Sources

Hi, Everyone,
Thanks, Ben, for posting the neat letter from Corby. I appreciate the time it took to set it up for posting. I really enjoyed it. Especially the Latin at the bottom warmed the depths of my altar boy's heart.

I appreciate the comments on Pfanz/Corby. Plausible and acceptable. This was the major question I had.

Thanks for everyone who posted on the sources. Nice to have friends with rare books and documents who are willing to check up/on for you.


I would like to remind everyone it was brother Bob who started this Corby thread then retired from the field to watch me get battered - answering in the negative again the question "Am I my brother's keeper?"

From: Tom Desjardin
Subject: Corby

By most evidence, Corby was no where near any fighting at Gettysburg. The "famous" event took place within a few hundred yards of the "Clump of Trees" and not where the statue now stands. All of it before the brigade headed toward the Wheatfield. A photo taken from Little Round Top on July 15 shows the large tree under which this event is reported to have taken place (See Frassanito's Gettysburg book).

Tom Desjardin

Subject: Re: Corby

For Tom Desjardins:
Hi Tom,
Are you still giving your program on the 20th Maine and the 15th Alabama during the week (Weds-Sat) starting at 11:30 from the 44th New York monument on LRT? Curiously enough, when Eileen Murphy, Jim Radmore, Dennis Lawrence and I visited the burg in august we had intended to be there for your program, but by the time we remembered to head for LRT, it was already about 1:00! We were sorry we missed it. However, I am planning to be in Gburg several times this month and next, and would like to drop in for your presentation.

In your note you wrote:

By most evidence, Corby was no where near any fighting at Gettysburg. The "famous" event took place within a few hundred yards of the "Clump of Trees" and not where the statue now stands. All of it before the brigade headed toward the Wheatfield. A photo taken from Little Round Top on July 15 shows the large tree under which this event is reported to have taken place (See Frassanito's Gettysburg book).
What source did you use for the above information? I ask from curiosity, not contentiousness. Also, I assume you are referring to the photo in Frass' book (Journey) showing the 'signal' rock on page 156. Lot's of trees in that photo, can you narrow down the one you are talking about? Thanks.
Subject: Corby's Statue Location Question

If the famous incident of Father Corby's blessing and absolution took place near the "clump of trees" near the center of Meade's line; how did the statue to Corby come to be set close to the Trostle house and the 1st Minnesota monument?

Steve Cassel

From: ( Scot Hartwig )
Subject: Corby's Statue Location Question

According to first-hand accounts, the incident took place near a large tree behind a knoll before the brigade moved toward the action. The knoll, we think, is now gone - a victim of excavation to flatten an area for the huge Penn. Monument. Bachelder's maps show the Irish Brigade in this area (North of the PA Mon.) before advancing toward the Wheatfield. There are only a few large trees in the July 15, 1863 photo from Little Round Top (in Frassanito's Journey Through Time, p. 156) near that area.

If timing of monument placement is anything - I'm speculating here - the Corby statue is where it is because the State of Penn. had already planned and acquired the land for their monument leaving no room near the actual Corby sight. Keep in mind, most monuments at Gettysburg were placed under highly politicized circumstances revolving around honor, etc., and some were even moved in the late 1890s.

Subject: Re: Corby Statue Location

Scott --
Thanks for the reply. Until the last couple of days I have never read much about Father Colby. I do not know if even individuals who have a consuming interest in the CW, especially Gettysburg know anything about the placement of the Corby statue. I just thought that it was on or near the actual location. By what you wrote, I take it that the Corby incident took place someplace near the northside of the Pennsylvania monument, is that right? In between the PA monument and the "Clump of Trees" in the "Angle", if yes, about where?

Best Wishes,
Steve Cassel

Subject: Corby, Meade, Morale, Motivation

Since I enjoy being a pest, and because I don't mind being the target of incoming fire, I will comment that all the talk about Father Corby misses the target. The "death order" of Meade and the " no Christian burial" talk by Corby all make the point that the AoP needed to have its feet held to the fire, or was perceived to need it. The ANVa was at the peak of motivation and morale, the AoP was pretty low. The ANVa had whipped the AoP under four commanders (one of them twice) and had never been defeated. The AoP could only claim a draw at Sharpsburg and a successful, temporary defense at Malvern Hill. As my g-g-grandaddy said, "We wuz proud men, and haddn't we the right?" The Tennessee and Virginia troops needed no threats to make them cross the wheat field and go up the ridge, they were already motivated, their morale high. That morale did not disappear after G'burg. The AoP would not win another clear victory until Five Forks. Some modern analysis have contended that morale and motivation added 20% to the effectiveness of the ANVa.

Now, fire away; but remember, Us Tennesseeans is proud men! And hain't we got the right?

From: lawrence ( Dennis Lawrence )

>Since I enjoy being a pest, and because I don't mind being the target
>of incoming fire, I will comment that all the talk about Father Corby misses
>the target. The "death order" of Meade and the " no Christian burial" talk by
>Corby all make the point that the AoP needed to have its feet held to the fire,
>or was perceived to need it.

I think the point being missed is that anecdotal evidence makes a poor basis for larger assumptions.


From: ( Benedict R Maryniak )
Subject: Dennis and anecdotes

Looking at the stories surrounding Father Corby at Gburg, Dennis waxes morbid about anecdotal material but I'm certain he acknowledges it is nonetheless a big part of Civil War "history." If you'll all pardon two or three lines from Thomas Aquinas, he looked at religious belief with the same sort of jaundiced-yet-hopeful eye with which we must see hearsay anecdotes. To study them one must know in advance that one is attempting something fundamentally impossible, yet necessary and worthwhile. To study anecdotes means to submit to chaos and nevertheless to retain faith in order and meaning. Faith and doubt belong together; they govern each other like inhaling and exhaling. The moment you take something for granted and stop questioning it, you may be worse off.

The books of Harry Pfanz and Mike Priest are extremely valuable because they are exahaustive compilations of anecdotal material about Gburg and Antietam. I guess you could say they've constructed plausible narratives using the preponderance of anecdotes plus whatever sources are seen to be more substantial.

I just got hold of a 1925 GAR pamphlet - "The Bronze Soldier" - written by a former lieutenant in the 107th NYV, a regiment raised in Chemung County and Elmira. In six pages, two old vets rest near the 107th's monument during an evening walk through the park and the soldier atop the monument ends up chatting with them. He was killed during the war and recounts the 107th's history in the anecdotal way that I imagine a vet might have related to other members of his regt. On the surface, this story's premise is preposterous, its anecdotal content open to question, and the reader is left to sort it out. That's what we cyberbuffs do with Gburg. "There's this famous story about . . . but it really happened this way."

Ben Maryniak

Subject: anecdotes and assumptions

What, not make larger assumptions based on anecdotes? What would happen to most of our history? Actually, ancedotes are excellent devices for illustrating points established by other sources, whether or not we like those points. To document the relative morale and motivation of the ANVa and the AoP please see Catton, Glory Road, p. 242ff where he talks about the morale of the two armies. One might also consult Freeman, R.E. Lee, Vol. III, pp 240-245. Corby and Pickett illustrate the true conditions in both armies and their ancedotes are therefore valid for making assumptions.

As G-G-Granpa said, "We wuz proud men when we went up to Gettysburg, and haddn't we the right? We'd always whupped 'em." They had the right, I say, and both documentation and anecdote prove it.

From: ( Alexander Cameron )
Subject: Dead Chaplain

I remember a story about a chaplain that was killed on the steps of one of the downtown churches because he was wearing a sword and refused to give it up. Any truth to this? Got any details? I could have this all messed up. I didn't read it, I heard it and it was a long time ago. It could be nonsense.


From: ( Benedict R Maryniak )
Subject: Chaplain Howell, KIA
Don't ever say "nonsense" within hearing of Bill Gallop or other 90th PA Vols survivor or they'll be on you like Newt on Medicare recipients! Chaplain Horatio Stockton Howell, a Presbyterian minister fromn Philadelphia who had been running a private school for boys at Delaware Water Gap, was 42 at Gettysburg. He was what some army chaplains called (disparagingly) a "chaplain militant" who wore a captain's uniform (chaplains were equivalent to captains in pay and military courtesy due them) plus "all the habiliments of war" like sash, sword, and revolver. Their colleagues saw the "chaplains militant" to be insecure in their regulation black uniforms and seeking to find a better relationship to the army with their martial appearance. Trouble was, they looked like line officers over the barrel of a rifle.

Howell, along with some other First Corps chaplains, was in the hospital established at what we call the Christ Lutheran Church (at #44 Chambersburg Street) near the town square. According to a famous testimony by Sgt Archibald B Snow of the 97th NYV - "I had just had my wound dressed and was leaving through the front door just behind Chaplain Howell, at the same time when the advance skirmishers of the Confederates were coming up the street on a run. Howell, in addition to his shoulder straps & uniform, wore the straight dress sword prescribed in Army Regulations for chaplains, but which was very seldom worn by them. The first skirmisher arrived at the foot of the church steps just as the chaplain and I came out. Placing one foot on the first step the soldier called on the chaplain to surrender; but Howell, instead of throwing up his hands promptly and uttering the usual, 'I surrender,' attempted some dignified explanation to the effect that he was a non-combatant, and as such was exempt from capture, when a shot from the skirmisher's rifle ended the controversy."

A monument to Howell was dedicated in 1889 at the foot of the church steps - "the first battlefield monument to perpetuate the memory of a chaplain slain in battle" - an open Bible in bronze with inscriptions of Hebrews 11,4 and Psalms 18,48. (This is the same 90th PA who put up the "tree with the bird nest, etc" on Oak Ridge).

Howell is buried in Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn. It took me forever to get a picture of his grave (thanks again to Bill Gallop). His widown and two sons were living in Orange NJ during 1865.

Albert Bachman of the Christ Lutheran Church is working to have a person portraying Howell who will relate this tale to Gburg visitors. If my physical therapist wife would only establish a practice in Gburg and support us, I could do this!

Fourteen chaplains of volunteer regiments were killed in combat-related situations (hundreds more died of disease). An artillery round beheaded John Eddy of the 72nd Indiana at Hoover's Gap TN, and Bovell McCall of the 13th TN Cavalry was shot as a spy July 1864 near Seaton's Mill on Middle Creek in Green County TN. George Knox, 29th Maine, died at Cedar Creek after his spooked horse rolled over him, driving the pommel of his saddle into his groin. His last words could be heard by people who had their windows open in Washington DC. Just kidding.

From: ( Alexander Cameron )
Subject: Dead Chaplains

Too bad you don't know anything about the chaplain. Oh well, I guess I'll go check somewhere else. Just kidding! Thanks.

From: (Alexander Cameron) Subject: Black Chaplains

Today I was browsing through the Civil War collection at Stephen F. Austin University and saw a book on Union Black Chaplains. Are you familiar with it? I didn't pick it up but wondered if you were interested in it.


From: (Benedict R Maryniak) Subject: black chaplains

Thanks very much for keeping me in mind.

That book concerning black chaplains was probably by Prof Redkey or based on his work. I had a chance to compare notes with him at Carlisle Barracks last year. The CW army had only a handful and they met all manner of resistance. Ironically, they were the first commissioned officers who weren't cauc! My favorite is Chaplain Samuel Harrison of the 54th MVI, a preacher from Pittsfield. He joined the unit after Battery Wagner but was forced to leave after nearly a year because the army paymaster would only pay him the maximum of $12 per month alloted to negro laborers rather than the $100+ per month due him as a chaplain (equivalent to a captain's pay).

Ben Maryniak

From: "Ed Colston"
Subject: Gettysburg CSA Chaplain Question

At Gettysburg, was Patrick H. Fontaine the chaplain of Col. William R, Aylett's 53'd Va? He was later.

Earlier Fontaine had been a lieutenant with the King William Artillery, but evidently lost the 1862 elections. I have a reference in which he says he believes he can get a position as chaplain (being an ordained minister) with Col. Aylett (boyhood friend and first cousin). Later in the war he was at Drewry's Bluff and Bermuda Hundred, but was he at Gettysburg?

From: (Benedict R Maryniak)
Subject: Chaplain Fontaine 53rd VA

Ed Colston asked if Patrick H. Fontaine the chaplain of Col. William R, Aylett's 53'd Va, was at Gburg. Though my research regards Yankee army chaplains, I am a NYer who owns the HE Howard Virginia Regimental Series. The 53rd, however, does not yet have a volume but the King William Arty history states Patrick Henry Fontaine, a Baptist minister born 1841, was "appointed chaplain (captain) of 53rd VA 8-2-1863. He later served as "chaplain of post" at Greensboro 2-7-1865. Died Person County NC 1915. Now, chaplains as well as other officers often served in their capacities prior to commission and/or official appointment, so, Ed, maybe you should write to the HE Howard Co, PO BOX 4161, Lynchburg VA 24502 and ask 'em for the address of the person working on the 53rd VA history. I'm sure there's somebody.

Hope this helped
Ben Maryniak

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Chaplains at Gettysburg