Whether Union or Confederate, whether defending the nation or seeking to split it, each man who fought at Antietam had a life, a family, passions, hopes, and dreams. That is what we seek to remember every year on the first Saturday in December.
We must also remember that this is not a "Civil War" event. This is an American event. On Saturday, the day of the Illumination, I was working the front desk at the Visitor Center, speaking with a gentleman and his wife. The gentleman had an ancestor who died at South Mountain, fighting in the 45th Pennsylvania. Thankfully, we were able to locate his ancestor's grave in the Antietam National Cemetery. We then started to discuss the Illumination, how best to see it, and what it meant. When I began describing the casualties for the gentleman, he began to tear up. He told me that he was a veteran of Vietnam, and seeing the candles reminded him of his friends who were lost in that conflict several decades ago. He then thanked me, shook my hand, and left. For this brave American Veteran, the Illumination was as much about those lost in combat in the 20th century as it was for those lost 150 years ago. This incident brought the candles to life for me in a new way this year, and reminded me once again that, no matter what year it is, American soldiers will always be willing to lay down their lives so that this nation might live.
Pvt. Ellwood Rodebaugh, Company D, 106th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry
Killed in Action, September 17, 1862