Candles glow in memory of soldiers who fought at Antietam

December 15, 2003|by TARA REILLY

Groups of volunteers spread out across Antietam National Battlefield on a cold Saturday, measuring distances and placing thousands of luminaires with precision on what many describe as hallowed ground.

"Every one of these candles was a soldier," volunteer Nancy Giles said. "It's more than just a number on a piece of paper."

More than 400 volunteers were placing 23,110 luminaires over a six-mile stretch of the battlefield to honor the soldiers killed or wounded in the Battle of Antietam on Sept. 17, 1862 - the bloodiest single-day battle in U.S. history.


A luminaire is a paper bag filled with sand, containing a plastic cup and one candle.

The National Park Service expected about 20,000 people to drive through the battlefield to see the lighted luminaires between 6 p.m. and 2 a.m. in the 15th Annual Memorial Illumination Ceremony.

"It'll look like a million luminaires, rather than 23,110," said Ed Leisinger, who leads a group of volunteers. "It's unbelievable."

Georgene Charles, general chairwoman of the event, said A.E. Root Company in Medina, Ohio, makes the candles specially for the Antietam ceremony.

The approximately two-inch high candles are made with special wicks so they can burn for 15 hours or longer. Charles expected some of the candles to still be burning by 6 a.m. today.

James Welsh, of Kearneysville, W.Va., said he's volunteered to place luminaires for 14 years.

"I have relatives that fought during the Civil War," Welsh said. "For me, it's just a great memorial to these soldiers. I think it's a great honor to be able to do it."

"It's really a labor of love," Charles said.

Persian Gulf War veteran Lawrence Goble volunteered through the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Martinsburg, W.Va.

"It's just something I couldn't miss," Goble said. "We're not letting the war just go to nothing."

Sgt. Steve Shipley of the Maryland National Guard said the event is a nice remembrance to those who fought and died at the battlefield.

"In this day and age, we can all relate to it," Shipley said. "It just makes you wonder seeing all that hallowed ground out here."

"It's very impressive," Spc. Jeremy Mose said.

The Maryland National Guard took part in placing the luminaires.

Charles said a lot of work goes into setting the luminaires down in the right spot so that they're lined up "to look like soldiers."

She said volunteers use compasses and other devices to measure where the luminaires should be placed.

"The candles are not just put out helter-skelter," Charles said. "There is a precision to them."

Giles said the event is so special to her that she used to drive from Louisiana to volunteer every year before moving to the area.

"I think our history needs to be preserved, and it needs to be honored, and it needs to be taught," Giles said. "(The ceremony) is a truly beautiful thing, and a lot of people are amazed by its magnitude."

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