At Petersburg National Battlefield, Luminaries Honor Fallen Warriors

Six thousand candles light the night at Poplar Grove National Cemetery. NPS photo.

Once rare, illumination programs employing lit candles (luminaries) to honor fallen soldiers and military veterans, past and present, have become fairly common at major battlefields and cemeteries throughout America. Among the National Park System units that have hosted illumination programs on an annual or intermittent basis are:

Palo Alto Battlefield National Historic Site;

Gettysburg National Battlefield;

Antietam National Battlefield (23,110 luminaries); and

Petersburg National Battlefield.

Last Saturday evening (November 13), Poplar Grove National Cemetery, a component of Petersburg National Battlefield, was the site of the fifth annual Poplar Grove National Cemetery luminary program. The event, which is held each year in conjunction with the Veterans Day celebration, features 6,000 lit candles, one for each Union soldier buried in Poplar Grove. The commemoration, which also features music and living history portrayals and storytelling, serves as a keen reminder of the sacrifices that soldiers have made in defense of values important to the preservation of our freedom and way of life.

This year's commemoration, which was attended by about 300 visitors, was a community event in the full sense of the term. The work of assembling the luminary bags and placing one on each grave was done by 120 soldiers from nearby Fort Lee.

The candles were later lit by local Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts, families, individuals and soldiers from Fort Lee who had returned to see the luminary. Providing the evening’s background bagpipe music was Virginia State Trooper Mike McCann. Local high school students, dressed in period uniforms, were stationed at four graves to tell the stories of the stories of the soldiers buried there and several more students greeted visitors as they arrived. Other contributors to this program included staff members of the City of Petersburg and students from Petersburg High School and Prince George High School.

The park has already begun making plans for the sixth edition of the Veteran's Day luminary program to be held in November 2011.