"It's a sobering experience to stand on grounds that once witnessed such bloodshed, such struggle and such sacrifice," with the sheer number of those lost hard to comprehend, the governor said.
He remembered Antietam as the place that gave Abraham Lincoln the chance to proclaim the Emancipation Proclamation, he said, and it's a site that every American, and especially every Marylander, should visit.
"Antietam reminds us of Maryland's place in this nation, of its centrality, of its rich history lending to the strength that drives our state today," the governor said. "To witness what we've overcome as a people, to witness our place in our nation's history, to remember those who were lost and, yes, to ponder what has been gained for future generations."
U.S. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Md., hasn't missed a memorial illumination in the 16 years he has represented the 6th District in Congress, he said Saturday.
"I think this speaks to what's really great about America," Bartlett said. He appreciates the "total lack of judgmental attitude" at the event, he said.
The illumination remembers Americans, and it does not distinguish between those who were fighting for the North and those fighting for the South, he said.
With American young men and women stationed around the world, "it's appropriate to recognize the sacrifice," Bartlett said.
Additional candles were lighted in honor of those currently serving. Pam and Mike O'Brien of Silver Spring, Md., were called upon to light the candles. The couple's son-in-law died in Iraq in February 2004.
After all the candles had been lighted, the sound of bagpipes filled the air, the music coming from a lone bagpiper in the center of the field. Musicians from the Boonsboro High School band played taps at the ceremony's conclusion.
As he was leaving, O'Malley walked up to a group of Boy Scouts. Dozens of the volunteers Saturday were affiliated with Scouting troops.
"Thank you boys for what you've done," O'Malley said before posing for a picture with the troop.
Daniel Letexier, 12, of Middletown, Md., thought meeting the governor was "pretty cool."
"He just said thanks for coming out here," Daniel said.
Daniel and his fellow Scouts camped out Friday night near Burnside Bridge, and planned to sleep there again Saturday night. The troop volunteers for the illumination every year.
"I like to be part of history," Daniel said.