from a friend

FATHER WILLIAM CORBY,  The Fighting Chaplain

William Corby was born on October 2, 1833 in Detroit , Michigan. His father was Daniel Corby, originally from King's County, Ireland. His mother, Elizabeth, was Canadian.

At the age of 16, William joined his father's real estate business. But his desire was to attain higher education.  In 1853, William was sent to Notre Dame, then a small school for boys. The school had its roots in a religious order in France, the Congregation of the Holy Cross.  Within a year, William had decided that he wished to join the priesthood. His studies in this area began in 1856. In 1859, he took his final vows and became a priest. He became director of Manual Labor at Notre Dame in 1861. He was also assigned to the local parish at St. Patrick's Church.

When the war began, the Church, while mainly favoring the cause of the north, decided to maintain a stance of neutrality. Notre Dame did send seven priests and 80 nuns (as nurses) to minister to Union troops.  Father Corby began unofficially with the 63rd New York Regiment, which became part of Thomas Meagher's famed Irish Brigade. He later moved to another Irish Brigade regiment, the 88th New York, being commissioned a Union chaplain on September 14, 1862.

Thus began three years of sharing the hardships of the soldiers. In September of 1862, the brigade took staggering casualties at Antietam. In December of 1862,it suffered terrible losses at Fredericksburg, in combat mainly with Cobb's Legion, a Confederate unit made up mostly of Irish Catholics.  In July of 1863 at Gettysburg, the decimated regiment engaged the enemy in the Wheatfield. Before going into battle, the troops were admonished by their chaplain to be unwavering in doing their duty. Father Corby climbed onto a large rock and offered absolution to all. Hundreds more fell in the following battle.

Throughout the war, Father Corby earned the love and respect of the soldiers by administering to their needs both behind the lines, and on the battlefield. He was even made an honorary captain of cavalry.  When the war ended, Father Corby returned to Notre Dame as vice president. He was named president the following year.

In 1872, he was sent to rescue Sacred Heart College, a struggling school in Watertown, Wisconsin.  This mission he accomplished, and by 1877, he resumed the presidency of Notre Dame. The school suffered a damaging fire in 1879, but Father Corby accomplished the rebuilding. He became known as the: "Second Founder of Notre dame."

In 1886, he left Notre Dame to become pastor of St. Bernard's Parish in Watertown, Wisconsin. Once again, his keen sense of business served him well.

In 1888, Father Corby attended a reunion of the Irish Brigade, marking the 25th anniversary of the battle at Gettysburg. Here he was dubbed: "The Fighting Chaplain" by St. Clair Mulholland, once the colonel of the 116th Pennsylvania Regiment. Mulholland spearheaded a movement in Congress to secure the Congressional Medal of Honor for Father Corby. In this he was not successful.

Father Corby in all probability cared little for individual honors, but he fervently wished to ensure that the sacrifices of the soldiers would not be forgotten. He wrote his wartime memoirs. The title of his book was: MEMOIRS OF CHAPLAIN LIFE.

When Father Corby died from  pneumonia on December 28, 1897, he was given a soldier's burial. His casket was borne by old soldiers, and volleys were fired. He was buried on the campus of Notre Dame University. 

On October 29, 1910, a bronze statue dedicated to Father Corby was placed on the spot at Gettysburg where he once stood. The dedication of the soldiers would indeed be remembered. So would the dedication of Father William Corby.

More about Father Corby:,%20Rev.htm

Father Abram Joseph Ryan - "The Poet Priest of the Confederacy"

Various places claim to be the birthplace of Father Abram Joseph Ryan. He is claimed by some sources to have been born in 1839 in Norfolk, Virginia. One source even claims County Limerick in Ireland. However, it is probable that he was born on February 5, 1838 in Hagerstown, Maryland.

His parents were Irish immigrants. His father was Matthew Ryan (the ancient clan name was O'Mulryan), and his mother was Mary Coughlin. They originated in Clonmell  (or Clogheen) in County Limerick. Besides Abram there were apparently two sisters (one of whom became a nun), and two brothers (one of whom was killed in the service of the Confederacy).

The family moved to St. Louis, where young Abram studied in the Christian Brothers School. He then moved on to Niagara University in New York to study theology. He took his vows in 1856, and was ordained in 1860. He then became a teacher of religion at Niagara and also in Cape Girardeau, Missouri .

When the Civil War began, Father Ryan, though opposed to slavery, embraced the southern cause. In 1862, he became a freelance Confederate chaplain (He apparently had a connection to the 8th Tennessee). He went onto battlefields to help the wounded and dying. He also assisted prisoners and victims of diseases in hospitals.

   When his younger brother was killed, Father Ryan wrote: "In Memoriam" and "In Memory of My Brother"). Thus began a prolific career of writing poetry about religion and the Confederacy.

   Father Ryan suffered a wound in the hand on November 30, 1864, in the monumental battle of Franklin in Tennessee. By this time, the fortunes of war had turned dramatically against the Confederacy.

   In April of 1865, Father Ryan was in Knoxville (He was pastor of the Church of the Immaculate Conception there). Word of Lee's surrender came and it greatly distressed him. The story goes that he immediately sat down and wrote his best known work: "The Conquered Banner," on some scraps of paper. Afterwards, they were collected and saved for posterity by his landlady. The words were apparently set to a Gregorian hymn. The poem was first published in 1866 in the FREEMANS JOURNAL. This provoked quite a stir among both friend and foe. Father Ryan was denounced by newspaper editor (and Reconstruction governor) William G. ("Parson") Brownlow, and by the CHICAGO TRIBUNE, which called him: "The Traitor Priest."

   Father Ryan soon produced other famous works, such as: "The Sword of Robert E. Lee,"and "The Lost Cause. "  From 1870 to 1883, he was pastor of St. Mary's Church in Mobile, Alabama. He had residences in Virginia, Missouri and Gulfport, Mississippi. During the 1870s, the time spent in Gulfport near Beauvoir Plantation resulted in the development of a personal friendship with Jefferson Davis.

   In 1878, there was a cholera epidemic in the south. Aid came from the north, which resulted in a feeling of reconciliation in Father Ryan. He wrote: "Reunited," and "Requiem for the Federal Dead." He went on lecture tours, seeking relief for southern widows and orphans and plague victims. (His assistance to typhoid victims in Memphis in the 1870s led to the establishment of a sewer system there).

   From 1878 to 1883, he was editor of a weekly paper called: "THE BANNER OF THE SOUTH" in Augusta, Georgia.  He also Edited "THE PACIFICATOR there.  This he had to give up due to poor health. He was also connected to a diocese in New Orleans and edited a publication called: "THE STAR."    

   On church related business, he traveled to places such as Biloxi, Nashville, Knoxville, Clarksville (Tennessee), Macon, and Mobile. He did lecture tours not only in the US, but in Canada and Mexico as well.

   In 1879, some of his poetry was published as: "FATHER RYAN'S POEMS." In 1882, a book of devotions ("A CROWN FOR OUR QUEEN") was published.

   In 1886, he traveled to visit a Franciscan monastery in Louisville, Kentucky. He died there on April 22, 1886. At the time of his death, he left an uncompleted manuscript on the life of Christ.

   Father Ryan was gone but not forgotten. He was laid to rest in Magnolia Cemetery (now Oaklawn Catholic Cemetery) (The same cemetery as Confederate Admiral Raphael Semmes), in Mobile. The MOBILE REGISTER initiated a campaign to collect dimes to pay for his monument. Much of the money came from school children.

   Father Ryan was memorialized in many other ways. A Sons of Confederate Veterans chapter in Jackson, Mississippi was named after him. In 1913, a statue of him was unveiled in Mobile. In 1939 in New Orleans, a plaque was dedicated to him in Confederate Memorial Hall. Some of his papers were preserved at Belmont Abbey College near Charlotte, North Carolina. Various articles were written about him in a number of publications. In : "The Blue and the Gray," Robert Taylor called Father Ryan: "The Thomas Moore of Dixie."  

   A high school, in his name, was established in  Nashville near Vanderbilt University. It was moved to its present location (Norwood Drive) in 1991. It was originally on the estate of one of Nashville's early mayors. (The original site is now a Hampton Inn).

   Father Ryan's house in Biloxi (finished in 1841) was preserved. It became the Father Ryan House Bed and Breakfast Inn. In September of 2005, it was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. Perhaps Father Ryan would have said that it illustrated that nothing built by Man will last forever. 

This link will take you to the Father Ryan House Bed and Breakfast Inn before Katrina.

Father Ryan's Poems:  


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