Antietam luminary

If you’re within the sound of my voice, so to speak – in driving distance of Antietam National Battlefield – you owe it to yourself to experience the annual Memorial Illumination, or see it again. This may be the nation’s premier Civil War event, and is not to be missed.

Awesome is an overused word, but the Illumination is truely awe inspiring. More than 1,000 volunteers place 23,000 candle luminaries across the fields and lanes of the battlefield, each one representing a casualty of 17 September 1862. After sunset, visitors drive through the park lit only by the candles.

You really should be there. If nothing else, the enormity of the loss of that day will be made more real for you than any statistics or words can express. Unless you’re made of wood, the emotional pull will be nearly overwhelming.

Truly awesome.


This year’s event is this Saturday, 2 December, beginning at 6 pm.

Some advice:

  • cars line up for some hours ahead of the start, so get there early. Last year, visitors were reported in the “tens of thousands”
  • don’t be in a hurry – between the waiting in line and the slow roll through the Park, this can take hours; be patient and just take it all in. Take friends or loved ones to share the time
  • voluntary contributions will be accepted at the entrance: pitch in if you can
  • once rolling, you musn’t get out of the car
  • there won’t be any bathrooms available at the Park after the Visitor’s Center closes at 3 pm
  • the ANB Park staff have provided directions to the Battlefield and a map of the driving path for this event


Added 1 Dec 06: more details from the 2003 Illumination announcement, but probably also applicable this year.

9:00 AM Volunteers begin placement of luminaries
12 Noon Placement of luminaries completed.
3:00 PM Battlefield closes to Public, volunteers begin lighting luminaries.
4:00 PM Lighting Completed.
4:15 PM Opening Ceremony at Maryland Monument.
5:00 PM Opening Ceremony Concludes.
5:15 PM Volunteer Procession Through Illumination.
6:00 PM Memorial Illumination Opens to Public, over 20,000 people expected to tour Illumination from 6:00pm to 2:00am.

A luminary is a paper bag filled with sand, containing a plastic cup and one candle. The candle used is the œAntietam candle developed by the A.E. [sic] Root Candle Company for this event. The candle burns from 12 to 16 hours. Over 1300 volunteers participate in this event, including Scouts, military units, and church, social and family organizations. Some volunteer groups have participated for all 15 Illuminations. The driving tour through the National Battlefield is approximately five miles long. Vehicles are asked to use their parking lights only, and continue through the event without stopping. The line of vehicles waiting to enter the event may be three to five miles long, and visitors may wait two hours or more to enter. There are no restrooms along the tour route.

No press passes are issued, but press ID will gain admittance to the Visitor Center where media personnel are asked to check in with the Command Post. Transportation will be arranged to areas across the field for photo opportunities. News Media may contact Superintendent J.W. Howard in advance by calling 301-432-7648.

A decision to cancel the event due to inclement weather is made no later than 10:00 AM on December [2]. If the weather is heavy rain/snow or sustained winds above 20 mph, news media may call 301-432-5124 after 10:30 am for confirmation.

7 Responses to “Antietam Illumination 2 December”

  1. Harry says:

    I will once again not be able to make it to the Illumination. Scheduling problems always keep me away, and this year I’ll be in Charleston, SC. I hope you can post some photos here.

  2. Cory says:


    Can you tell us which organizations comprise the 1,000 volunteers who actually set out the candles? TIA.


  3. Brian says:

    Charleston is one of my favorite cities (but it’s not Sharpsburg). If I can get to the Illumination I’ll try some shots with my feeble little digital, but don’t expect much under those conditions. There are pro and near-pro photographers usually there: I expect flickr and photobucket will be full afterward. Perhaps a reader-volunteer will step up and share shots with us? Cory?
    I’ve read of various groups volunteering in the past, but I don’t know who they are this year. I’ll see if I can find out. They deserve a lot of credit; I know it’s an all day deal, and it’s done with such great precision…

  4. Ron Dickey says:


    Don’t know about this year’s volunteers, but your post caused me to dig out last year’s program. Sponsors, who provided the organizational leadership, were the Little Heiskell Charter Chapter Hagerstown, Maryland of the American Business Women’s Association and the Antietam National Battlefield. There are numerous program donors who make monetary contributions. Even more organizations and individuals contribute “professional” services, e.g., law enforcement, fire and ambulance services, BFI, etc. Then there is the volunteers who do the work of filling bags and placing them out. Forgive the length of the post, but these guys deserve a special thanks for their time and effort:
    Little Heiskell Charter Chapter – ABWA
    Just Friends
    Troopers of the 93rd
    Solomon’s Evangelical Lutheran Church Teens
    Sharpsburg Elementary School PTA
    Frederick County Civil War Roundtable
    Trinity Lutheran Church – Boonsboro
    Boy Scouts: Troops #1910, #460, #1853, #233, #1097, #43, #996, #1575, #845, #268, #396, #273, #768, #249, #1444, #1509, #209, #433, #1570, #142, #990, #19, #1140, #33, #35, #796, and #355
    Girl Scouts of the Nation’s Capital
    Girl Scouts: Troops #37, #159, #759, #2147, #3191, #3577, and #4684
    The Volunteer Brigade
    Boobsboro HS National Honor Society
    Friends of Sheperd University
    Sons of Confederate Veterans
    126th Penn Vol Inf, Co. C
    Main Street Arts
    St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church Youth Group
    St. Anne’s Episcopal Church Youth Group
    Horton’s Volunteers
    Beaver HS Civil War Club
    St. James School
    Gordo’s Baggers
    21st GA Vol Inf
    Knights of Columbus, Fr. Bernard Harding Council – #12180
    Williamsport National Honor Society
    Covenant Baptist Church

    Ron Dickey

  5. Brian says:

    Thanks Ron – what a fine and varied group, eh?

  6. Brian says:

    Couldn’t make it this year? Ranger Mannie has a nice review on his blog. He’s hinting at a later uTube movie as well.

  7. Cory says:


    What a great list and thank you for assembling that. I don’t know how many of you got out to the Illumination, but it was amazing yet again (and not as cold as expected).

    I do believe the participating organizations from year to year — I am actually a participating member of the Sharpsburg Elementary School PTA and the subject did not come up this year during our meetings.

    I was out and about taking photographs on the battlefield well after dark. I hope to post some this weekend — I will drop a line here if anyone is interested in seeing them.


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