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Volunteers ready to light up Antietam Battlefield

November 30, 1999



Antietam illumination



The 11th annual Antietam National Battlefield Memorial Illumination will be held Saturday, Dec. 4, from 6 p.m. to midnight.

Along the battlefield's 4.5 miles of roads and in fields, 23,110 candles placed in bags will be lighted to commemorate casualties of the Battle of Antietam.

The rain date is Saturday, Dec. 11. To find out if the event is postponed, call the visitors after 10 a.m. Saturday at 301-432-5124.

By BRUCE HAMILTON / Staff Writer

Laurence Hill plans to spend Saturday placing lights in a field so that others can see both the spectacle of symbolic flames and what they represent.

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Hill, 40, and a correctional officer, is one of about 1,100 volunteers who will prepare Antietam National Battlefield for its 11th annual memorial illumination. They will place and light 23,100 candles in honor of the soldiers who died, were wounded or missing in the Sept. 17, 1862, Civil War battle.

Set in sand-filled paper bags, the tiny fires are laid out with military precision in ramrod-straight lines like silent sentries.

"It opens people's eyes," Hill said. "It does not let people forget."

The candles help visitors grasp the magnitude and meaning of the number of casualties on the bloodiest single day of fighting of the Civil War.

Hill, of Sharpsburg, began helping with the illumination after moving to the area 10 years ago. He joined a PTA group from his child's school, which helped prepare the field. "It seemed like such a neat thing to do," he said.

"I think it's neat in our modern day to see so many people putting so much effort to memorialize these guys who fought there," he said.

It's hard work, he said. Some years, it is bitterly cold and windy. Although he is enthusiastic and happy to start, several hours of setting up luminaires is tiring, Hill said.

Hill oversees a group of volunteers. He uses ropes marked with duct tape in 15-foot intervals to line up luminaires. Others use lasers. The task of deploying, lighting and retrieving them involves complicated logistics.

"It is quite an undertaking," said Georgene Charles, general chairwoman of the volunteers. About 100 volunteers met at the Washington County Agricultural Education Center Nov. 20 to bag and box some 24,000 luminaires.

Those were loaded onto tractor-trailers and taken to Mumma's Farm on the battlefield. Jeeps and other four-wheel drive vehicles will distribute boxes to about 17 quadrants, each of which holds between 250 and 750 candles.

Each group of volunteers goes to its designated section, unpacks and places the lights.

Students, scouts, church and community organizations are among the groups helping. They begin at 10 a.m. on the day of the illumination and work until about 4 p.m.

The public is admitted from 6 p.m. until midnight. Chief Ranger Ed Wenschoff expects between 3,000 and 4,000 vehicles. Typically, a six-mile line forms at the entrance.

It takes about 40 police officers, rangers and State Highway Administration workers to control traffic and safety, Wenschoff said.

At 6 a.m. Sunday, inmates from the Maryland Correctional Training Center and other volunteers clean up. "By 10 or 11 the next day, you would not know what occurred there the night before," said Charles.

Superintendent John Howard is ready. "Everything is in place. All we need is good weather," he said. Howard said the illumination is probably one of the most moving experiences he's ever had.

"I would say it's a tradition that will be here forever," he said.

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