Luminarias recognize loved ones past and present
Every December at Antietam National Battlefield, candles and sand honor the soldiers who were wounded, killed or missing in a single day 155 years ago.
The somber luminaria representation called Antietam National Battlefield Memorial Illumination will be from 6 p.m. to midnight Saturday, Dec. 2, at the battlefield.
For 29 years, the illumination of the burning candles strategically placed across the battlefield has revered 23,110 soldiers who fought during the Civil War battle at Antietam in September of 1862.
Georgene Charles, the founder and organizer of the event, wants to remain faithful to the mission statement and remember the sacrifices of those soldiers.
“When you see the 23,110 luminaries and remember each candle represents a life lost, killed or wounded in a single day of battle, it brings meaning to the numbers,” she said. “It is a haunting visual of the devastation that occurred that fateful day.”
The critical element to the success of this event is due to the hard-working group of 1,500 volunteers who begin early in the morning to methodically place the bagged candles in their designated field.
The candle lighting begins at mid-afternoon, and the volunteers get the first opportunity to experience the five-mile driving tour to witness the fruits of their labor.
“Going through the battlefield is a small thank you to the dedicated volunteers who worked diligently throughout the day,” Charles said. “They don’t expect anything, but the honor of going through first is a time they can reflect and view their commitment to this memorial event. Many feel the presence of the soldiers on the battlefield. This is a very special time for our volunteers.”
One said volunteer group that has been a part of the illumination since its inception is the Sharpsburg MD BSA Troop 51, which handles the field directly across the road from the observation tower and Bloody Lane.
Scout Master Stephen Koepp said there are many reasons they chose to volunteer for this event.
“This is our hometown, and we enjoy assisting the town and the battlefield putting on this big event,” Koepp said. “This is an event that allows the Scouts and Scout families to volunteer their time, connect with the history of the town, pay tribute to the those that were wounded and killed, and truly realize the magnitude of the battle that occurred at Antietam. Also, let’s not forget fun and fellowship we all have while doing the work.”
In conjunction with this event is the illumination at the Newcomer House, which serves as the Information and Exhibit Center for the Heart of the Civil War Heritage Area. The Newcomer House Illumination will begin at 4 p.m. along Md. 34.
Rachel B.K. Nichols, Newcomer House manager, works with Girl Scout Troop 40726 to assemble the luminarias and arrange them on the side lawn of the house, and had the idea to add a new twist in 2015.
“From late summer through November, blank luminary bags are put out at the Newcomer House, four interstate visitors centers, and the downtown Hagerstown Visitors Center,” Nichols said. “Visitors to those locations are given markers and stickers and invited to dedicate a luminary that will be placed at the Newcomer House on Dec. 2.”
The dedicated luminarias represent those who have served their country in the military or any special loved one.
When it was decided to allow the public to personalize the luminarias, they could not have anticipated the depth of feeling that goes into the dedications.
“The designs and dedications on the bags are as varied as the people who create them. Some are as simple as a short patriotic message such as, “God Bless America,” and others are very personal dedications to service persons past and present,” she said. “Often, people use the luminaries to honor ancestors who fought in the Civil War. I think the ones that most move me are those dedicated to soldiers who have been killed in the recent actions in the Middle East.”