23,110

Civil War cannon and luminaries at Antietam Battlefield by Keith Snyder

This post can also be found on the PreservationNation.org Blog.

I know that Thanksgiving is normally when the holiday lights go up twinkling, bright and cheery. They give you that warm wintry feeling that many associate with both the commercial and religious aspects of the season. However, those lights always remind me that the first week of December is near—and with it the annual Antietam National Battlefield Memorial Illumination.  On this day, thousands of people drive through the National Park grounds to view the luminaries, one for every single solider who was killed, wounded, or missing on September 17, 1862 — 23,110 in total.

My first experience walking this hallowed ground was in 2000. As a senior in high school I helped to set up the white bags with candles, working with rope to outline a perfect gird. I can’t remember how many I lay down, but I do know what happened at dusk, when each candle sprang to life. From every angle the candles stood at attention, with honor in perfect lines. I guess you can say that they danced, the peaceful glow of the beams a far cry from the violence of those 12 hours–the bloodiest in the entire Civil War.

It has been nine years since I attended the ceremony, but I still spend that first weekend looking for articles, pictures and testimonials. This year I will be in Sharpsburg, Maryland with 20,000 others ready to look out over the field of lights and remember.

The Annual Antietam National Battlefield Memorial Illumination will take place this year on December 5, 2009 (rain/snow date December 12). More information can be found on the Antietam National Battlefield website.

Illumination is only one way that we remember the past, just as Antietam is not the only battlefield or site that remembers the fallen in this manner. I’d like to hear about some others, so please comment and share.

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