Antietam Illumination postponed until Saturday, Dec. 8
SHARPSBURG - The memory of the brave men who fell on Sept.17, 1862, continues to shine brightly.
The annual Memorial Illumination will take place from 6 p.m. to midnight Saturday, Dec. 8, at Antietam National Battlefield. The event was postponed from Dec. 1.
“It’s an event that brings together over 1,000 volunteers who work with the park to put out roughly 23,100 on the battlefield,” said Susan Trail, superintendent for the Antietam National Park. “One for each person who was killed, wounded or went missing as a result of the Battle of Antietam.”
The Battle of Antietam was fought between Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia and George B. McClellan’s Army of the Potomac. Even though the Union won, both sides suffered a combined total of more than 20,000 casualties.
“We consider it the bloodiest one-day battle in American history,” Trail said. “This is the 30th year of the memorial illumination; it’s been around for a long time.”
The illumination is made possible by a large number of volunteers led by Georgene Charles.
“The Park Service provides the logistical support that’s needed with the safety and organizing the battlefield that day,” she said. “These volunteers come together to put together the luminarias that go out on the battlefield as a memorial to the soldiers who were killed, wounded or missing in the Battle of Antietam.”
Cars can drive through a five-mile stretch of the battlefield to view the luminarias.
“Once its dark, the general public drives in and sees the luminarias on the battlefield,” Trail said. “That’s the point of it, to memorialize the sacrifice of the soldiers that were here.”
Thousands of cars drive through each year to see the illumination.
“Generally, we’ll have about 2,000 cars go through,” Trail said. “Generally, our largest crowds are in the first few hours. We recommend to people that the longer lines are earlier in the evening, so the shorter lines are later at night.”
The illumination isn’t just a fitting memorial, but a visual splendor. The battle only lasted one day, but the blood of the men that fought there, although washed away, is still felt.
“Visually, it’s very impressive to drive through the battlefield at night,” Trail said. “It’s an impressive event, but it’s also a very solemn event. It gives people the opportunity to realize the magnitude of the losses and sacrifice on this battlefield.”
If You Go ...
WHAT: Annual Memorial Illumination
WHERE: Antietam National Cemetery, 302 E. Main St., Sharpsburg
WHEN: 6 p.m. to midnight Saturday, Dec 8.