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Antietam National Battlefield luminarias personalizes statistic

'It's just shocking to see how many candles are out there'

December 01, 2012|By DON AINES | dona@herald-mail.com
  • A photographer waits on a long exposure with his camera Saturday evening at Antietam National Battlefield.
By Kevin G. Gilbert, Staff Photographer

SHARPSBURG — Before the sun set Saturday, the thousands of luminarias arrayed across the fields of Antietam National Battlefield were almost invisible from a distance, the paper bags blending into a background of wheat, hay and corn stubble.

As day gave way to dusk and dusk to darkness, the 23,110 candles began to glimmer and then glow, their lights following the contours of the land where an equal number of men were killed, wounded or reported missing 150 years ago during the Battle of Antietam.

“One death is a tragedy: one million a statistic,” is a quote attributed to Joseph Stalin, but the effect these thousands of lights had on volunteers and spectators at the 24th annual Antietam Memorial Illumination was more personal than that of the late Soviet dictator.

“Breathtaking ... It impacts you more than a number,” said Steven Albritton, who came up Saturday with Boy Scout Troop 1853 of Springfield, Va.

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“It’s sad to see how many people died here,” said Daniel McIntyre, also with Troop 1853.

“It’s just shocking to see how many candles are out there,” said Patrick Kelly, another member of the troop.

Fifty or more members of the troop came up to help set up luminarias, McIntyre said. The Scouts set out about 2,000 at the Mumma Farm, he said.

Albritton said he has been coming up to the battlefield for about four or five years, but the troop has been sending up Scouts for about a dozen years.

About 1,400 volunteers helped prepare the fields so that a predicted 20,000 visitors could join the procession of vehicles rolling slowing through the battlefield, said Thomas B. Riford, president and chief executive officer of the Hagerstown-Washington Convention and Visitors Bureau. It is North America’s largest memorial illumination, he said.

It was on these fields on Sept. 17, 1862, that America had its bloodiest day when Union and Confederate forces clashed outside the village of Sharpsburg. The number killed that day exceeded 3,600, according to the battlefield website, more Americans than were killed in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Pearl Harbor or D-Day.

U.S. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, recalling Sept. 11, thought that might be the day when Antietam would lose its distinction as “America’s Bloodiest Day.” It might have, he said, but for the fact that the terrorists struck early in the morning and many workers had yet to arrive at the World Trade Center towers.

Though they fought on different sides, Riford noted there is no distinction between North and South in the carpet of candles that stretched to the horizon.

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