"It's hard to imagine 23,000 anything until you see these candles out," said Faye Stauch, 47, of Hagerstown.
"Being an old military man, it hits home pretty hard," said retired Air Force Col. Roy Horton, 61, of Waynesboro, Pa.
"We came out and drove through, and we were so impressed we wanted to be part of it," Horton said.
One luminaire was set out on the Artz Farm for Timothy Landacre, 48, of Bridgeport, W.Va., the re-enactor who died of a heart attack at the 135th Commemoration of the Battle of Antietam.
Former Maryland Gov. William Donald Schaefer, the honorary chairman of the event, said he's struck more and more each year by the enormity of the illumination and the loss that occurred at Antietam.
During World War II, Schaefer served in the Army medical corps.
"If someone made it to the medical corps, they made it," Schaefer said.
Not so at Antietam.
Before he came to the illumination for the first time several years ago, Schaefer said "the figures were just figures." But after seeing row after row of luminaires, he was struck by the horrendous loss of men standing and shooting and killing each other.
"You can almost see the blood at Bloody Lane," he said.
"Everyone who comes up here has to leave in a very somber mood."
"It's a real reality check for a lot of us," said John W. Howard, superintendent of Antietam.
"I challenge anybody to be able to see this and not walk out with a lump in their throat. I don't think it can be done."
Howard thanked the hard work of the volunteers.
"This cold is biting and these people have been out here all day. These people are about as dedicated and determined as you can get."
"It really is sobering to look at all of those lights," said Pat Meador, 50, of Stafford, Va.
For Mary Ann Moen, 42, of Cumberland, Md., the night was special for family reasons. Her great-great-grandfather fought as a Confederate under Gen. Jeb Stuart at Antietam, she said.
"I can't even imagine what it would have been like to have been a soldier," she said.
Georgene Charles has been in charge of the event from the beginning, and said it's an honor to be a part of it.
About 3,000 to 5,000 cars usually drive the five-mile route through the park.