23,110 Candles -- One for Each Soldier Killed, Wounded, or Missing

Luminaries at Bloody Lane, Antietam National Battlefield. NPS photo by Keith Snyder.

The 20th Annual Antietam National Battlefield Memorial Illumination has been scheduled to begin at 6:00 p.m. on Saturday, December 6, weather permitting. The popular event, staged in cooperation with the American Business Women's Association (Little Heiskell Charter Chapter Hagerstown, Maryland), features a five-mile driving tour with thousands of luminaries lining the way and clustered in places of special significance.

Many people who have visited Civil War battlefields after dark have said that there’s something spooky about the experience. When the contested terrain and its monuments are only dimly seen, it’s easy to imagine that the place is haunted. Some say they’ve actually seen ghosts on the battlefields or in nearby houses.

Regardless of your beliefs about the supernatural, visiting Antietam National Battlefield during this year’s annual Memorial Illumination will put you in closer touch with the human dimensions of the Civil War. Each of the 23,110 luminaries encountered along the driving tour represents a Union or Confederate solder killed, wounded, or missing during the
Battle of Antietam, 12 hours of ferocious combat that made September 17, 1862, the bloodiest single day in American military history. It staggers the imagination to think that so many human lives could have been snuffed out or plunged into agony in just one day on this little patch of Maryland countryside.

Producing an Illumination at this scale is no simple logistical feat. The many thousands of luminaries -- candles placed in weighted paper bags – must be properly aligned when installed. This necessitates the orchestrated work of about 1,400 volunteers (church groups, military units, etc.) organized into teams assigned to specific sections of the tour route. The teams begin early in the morning, and by the time the luminaries are being lighted (about 3:00 p.m.), eager motorists are already lining up for the 6:00 start of the tour.

To see an excellent collection of Illumination photos, visit this site, which also has pictures that show volunteers placing the luminaries.

Of course, there’s nothing quite like being there yourself. If you’d like to experience the 20th Annual Antietam National Battlefield Memorial Illumination, visit this site for pertinent information and see this site for an auto tour map.

If poor weather forces postponement of the Illumination, it will be rescheduled for the next weekend (Saturday, December 13).

Post Script: The luminaries at Antietam National Battlefield are not placed on graves. There aren’t any graves along the tour route.

Comments

I have done the Illumination tour twice before, and it is truly an awesome sight - you will be left breathless. To think that each light represents one soul...it sends chills. I highly recommend that you go if you are able! Once when I went, there were several "vignettes" of living history reenactors scattered across the field...I've often wondered if all the scenes were "real".