The pivotal battle of the American Civil War took place in 1863 in the small town of Gettysburg, PA. It was the first and only battle north of the Mason-Dixon Line. Gettysburg is part of the Diocese of Harrisburg following its founding in 1868.
The battle saw 51,000 casualties on both sides in a three-day span. So much has happened in the three-day span.
The battle featured some Catholics who fought in the battle and were instrumental in the Civil War. Some who fought for the Union were mainly Polish, Austrian, Italian, and French to name a few. Catholicism was still a minority at the height of the Civil War. All had one thing in common. Their love for their new home which is America.
One famed group that fought at Gettysburg was the Irish Brigade which included soldiers from Boston, New York, and Pennsylvania. Prior to 1863, the unit saw action in Antietam and Fredericksburg. The brigade held its ground against Longstreet’s troops at Wheatfield.
The Boston regiment provided a chaplain named Father William Corby. On the morning of the battle’s second day, Father Corby would stand on a rock and give absolution to the soldiers before they engaged the Confederate Army. Father Corby would later become the first President of Notre Dame University. The battlefield has a monument dedicated to the Catholic priest at the exact spot he gave the soldiers general absolution.
Another group that was instrumental during and after this momentum-changing battle was the Daughters of Charity. A dozen from this famed congregation founded by St. Elizabeth Ann Seton. The sisters would nurse the wounded comrades of both sides in hospitals.
They also used a church named St. Francis Xavier in town. The church houses stained-glass windows which depict the tending care of the sisters to the soldiers injured from war. Every year the church offered a Mass for those who fell during the historic engagement.
Two brothers from Philadelphia would see action just hours from their hometown. Federico and Alfonso Cavada, sons of Cuban immigrants, were a part of the 114th Pennsylvania. Federico was captured by the Confederates. Both brothers survived the war. In 1871, they were killed during Cuba’s independence from Spain.
Another Catholic to highlight though he would convert after the war is James Longstreet. Longstreet, a trusted friend, and commander under General Robert E Lee, protested his superior’s tactics. Nevertheless, he followed them which led to the fateful charge on the final day that nearly wipes out a division of Confederates that is known as Pickett’s Charge.
Longstreet converted to Catholicism in 1877. He would remain a faithful Catholic convert until his death in 1904. Read more about him here
Catholics fought against each other. However, they also have found their way into the Catholic American History books.