Our Country's Fiery Ordeal

A blog about the American Civil War, written and maintained by historian Daniel J. Vermilya, author of The Battle of Kennesaw Mountain (History Press, 2014) and James Garfield and the Civil War (History Press, 2015)

Dedicated to my great-great-great grandfather, Private Ellwood Rodebaugh, Company D, 106th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, killed at the Battle of Antietam, September 17, 1862.

"And may an Overuling Providence continue to cause good to come out of evil, justice to be done to all men where injustice has long prevailed, and finally, peace, quiet, and harmony to come out of this terrible confrontation and our country's fiery ordeal." -- Albert Champlin, 105th Ohio, Diary entry of June 19, 1864 (Western Reserve Historical Society)

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Antietam National Battlefield's 2011 Memorial Illumination

Every year, on the first Saturday of December, Antietam hosts a very special event to honor the memory of all those from both sides who fell as casualties in battle that awful September day many years ago. The park uses scores of volunteers to set out 23,110 candles, one for each man killed, wounded, and missing at the Battle of Antietam. As the sun sets on the battlefield, the glow of the candles breaks through the darkness, reminding visitors, volunteers, and rangers alike of the true cost of Antietam.

This year's illumination was my first, and I split my time between helping to park volunteer's cars and aiding visitors who had acquired special use permits to photograph the battlefield from the visitor center. I can say without a shadow of a doubt that this was one of the coolest, most awe inspiring experiences I have had in my young park service career. Visitors lined up in their cars for miles and miles to see the event. Last night, the line of cars at one point stretched over five miles long, causing waiting times of two to three hours. The drive through the event could take up to an hour itself. That being said, every visitor who I spoke to today said it was completely worth it. There really isn't any way to describe the event other than seeing it for yourself.

I wanted to share with you just a few photographs that I took to try to capture the spirit of last night's event. For a few of these, I want to thank park volunteer and good friend Dave Maher, who maintains a great Civil War blog titled Pennsylvania's Emergency Men.

For many of us, Antietam is just a statistic. It is known as America's bloodiest day. 23,110 men were killed, wounded, or missing during a single day of combat. Yet, Antietam is much more than just a number. When we view it as 23,110 candles set before us in the night, the human cost of September 17, 1862 becomes painfully clear. Each candle represents a life that was either snuffed out or dramatically altered by what occurred at Antietam. Each candle represents a person. When we speak of Antietam, we aren't speaking of maps, war games, or hypothetical situations. We are speaking of people. Real people. People with families. People like Elwood Rodebaugh, who died upon the fields of Antietam, leaving his wife a widow and his two young children without a father. Each candle that was lit for Antietam's Memorial Illumination reminds us of just how high the cost of freedom truly is.

 (Courtesy of Dave Maher)

 (Courtesy of Dave Maher)

(Courtesy of Dave Maher)

Private Elwood Rodebaugh, Company D, 106th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, Killed in Action at the Battle of Antietam

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