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Flames of rememberance

Luminaires light battlefield

Luminaires light battlefield

December 09, 2002|by SCOTT BUTKI

scottb@herald-mail.com

While many people drove through Antietam National Battlefield on Saturday night to glimpse the 14th annual illumination, a few Civil War re-enactors chose another historically representative way to honor those who died there.

Four men stood in the snow at least 25 yards from the road around a small wood fire. The four - Duane Stone of Woodsboro, Md., Bill O'Dea of Syracuse, N.Y., Greg McGaha of Hagerstown and Tom Piston of Boonsboro - were serving as a traditional Union picket post near a monument for the Pennsylvania regiment.

Wearing Union uniforms and other traditional garb, they jokingly asked questions about the unusual objects - cars - that would surely confuse a Civil War-era soldier.

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Although the area was dark and they were not right next to the road, the re-enactors were seen by some of the people in the cars driving by, many with no headlights on, Piston said.

As if on cue, one car stopped and a camera flash went off as someone took a photo of the re-enactors.

Spending the night on the battlefield was the re-enactors' way of honoring the 23,110 men killed, wounded or missing in the Sept. 17, 1862, Battle of Antietam. It also gives them a better sense of Civil War-era life, they said.

They used sticks to control their fire and cook bacon. They could have brought chocolate cookies from the supermarket, Piston said, but that would have been less authentic.

The men came to the illumination prepared to serve as either Confederate or Union re-enactors. They were asked to be Union re-enactors and others served as Confederates.

In order to be ready to portray soldiers from either side at this and other Civil War events, they are constantly learning about Civil War life, O'Dea said.

As they spoke, cars drove by, sometimes slowing or stopping as people took in the sights of the snow-covered battlefields filled with candles.

Candles for each of the 23,110 men were spaced roughly five paces apart along the road that winds through the park. Filtered through brown paper bags, the candles give off an orange glow.

Among the 1,200 volunteers who helped set up the candles were members of Boy Scout troops, church groups and re-enactment groups, Chief Ranger Ed Wenschhof said.

Usually about 1,900 cars go through the battlefield between 6 p.m. and midnight for the annual illumination, Wenschhof said.

Ron Coldsmith of Waynesboro, Pa., said he and members of a Chambersburg church helped set up the candles earlier Saturday and were going through the procession at night to see how it looked.

The result is, as always, an amazing sight, he said.

Closer to the visitor center, Lori Floro had her camera on a tripod as she tried to capture some good pictures of the illumination. She came for the first time last year and found the experience compelling and decided to return, she said.

"This is pretty impressive," she said.

A group of friends drove about six hours from Akron, Ohio, to see the event.

A lot of people will hear the statistic about the 23,110 casualties, and to them it is an abstract number, Andrew Haut of Akron said. But actually seeing a candle for each person makes it easier to realize the magnitude of the battle, he said.

It is similar to how seeing the names of those killed in Vietnam listed at the memorial in Washington brings home the level of deaths in that war, he said.

"I think it is a great tribute to those people who lost their lives here," Lacy Case of Ohio said.

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