Luminaires light up battlefield

December 05, 1998

LuminairesBy RICHARD F. BELISLE / Staff Writer

photo: YVETTE MAY / staff photographer

For the 10th year Saturday night, more than 4,000 cars were expected to snake past the 23,110 flickering flames softened by the paper bags that held them, each a remembrance of a dead, wounded or missing soldier from America's bloodiest day.

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Earlier in the day, more than 1,000 volunteers filled the bags with sand and a single candle and placed them on the ground along the roads and through the rolling hills of Antietam National Battlefield.

The candles are lit around 3 p.m. and generally last through the night, rangers said.

The luminary project was started in 1989 to remember the soldiers from both sides who met in battle on the farmlands and woods overlooking Antietam Creek and the town of Sharpsburg on Sept. 17, 1862. It was to become the nation's most famous one-day killing field.


Park Rangers said 3,600 soldiers from both sides were killed in the battle,18,000 were wounded and another 1,000 to 1,200 ended up missing.

A brief ceremony thanking the more than 1,000 volunteers who filled and placed the bags was held at the Maryland Monument Saturday before the public drive-through. Welcoming remarks were given by John Howard, park superintendent. Other speakers were U.S. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Md., Georgene Charles, chairwoman of the Memorial Illumination project, and Maryland Comptroller Elect and former Gov. William Donald Schaefer. Schaefer is honorary chairman of the luminary project.

Music was provided by the Ebenezer AME Church Choir of Hagerstown.

This year, 1,011 volunteers signed up to fill, place and light the luminaires that spread out over the battlefield like thousands of fireflies.

While a fair share of the volunteers come from Washington County and the Tri-State area, many come from Delaware, Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky and even as far away as Georgia, park rangers said.

Volunteers included Boy Scout, Cub Scout and Girl Scout troops and packs, church groups and Civil War-related organizations.

"For a lot of the volunteers coming here, this is like a pilgrimage," said one park ranger who asked not to be named.

Among Saturday's volunteers were about 20 youngsters from St. Timothy Episcopal church in Herndon, Va. They left home around 7 a.m., arrived at the battlefield at 9:30 a.m. and immediately set to work. By 2 p.m. they were leaning against a split rail fence, ready for a break and looking forward to the pizzas they were promised.

"We learned how to get along with each other and work together," said Kate Brigden, 14.

"This has been hard. We have to keep the candles exactly 15 feet apart," said Christian Knoizen, 12.

The group picked up a couple of mascots during the morning, two mutts they named Dude and Cujo.

"They've been following us all day. They stop when we do. Cujo even got in one of the vans. We've adopted each other," said Brian Krusemark, 14.

Chief Ranger Ed Wenschof estimated that 4,000 vehicles would drive through the park Saturday night. The gates opened at 6 p.m. and the procession lasted on until the last car went through, usually around midnight, Wenschof said. "We don't turn anyone away, even it it's 1 a.m.," he said.

Wenschof was not worried that one of the luminaires would start a grass fire, even in the current dry period.

"We have fires every year. The National Park Service is on duty and the Sharpsburg Fire Department is only a phone call away," he said.

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