Photos and text by Karl Merton Ferron
Marking the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, about 1,500 volunteers spent all day walking around the hills outside downtown Sharpsburg to put a common goal into action. After measuring grids to line each row, over 23,000 luminarias were placed in remembrance of the bloodiest single day in U.S. history. Adults helped children return to each bag and light every Antietam candle. Although some of the luminarias extinguished in the sustained wind, most remained lit, well into the night, commemorating the 28th annual Memorial Illumination at Antietam National Battlefield.
Each candle represents the bloodshed of one person who participated in the battle Sept. 17, 1862, when Confederate troops invaded the Union for the first time. By the time the final shot had been fired, 23,110 people were killed, wounded, or missing. One body fell every thirty seconds.
Vehicles filled with visitors streamed across the hillside in a five-mile crawl, gazing at the flickering warm glow of each luminaria. “Though it was a tragedy, I came to see Antietam in a different light,” said Eagle Scout Justin Friday. “We have done a phenomenal job year after year, memorializing this battle and honoring those soldiers. I’m sure the soldiers who have fallen, are thankful for what we’ve done today, and would be proud of what we continue to do tomorrow.”