Antietam National Battlefield's Annual Memorial Illumination

Antietam National Battlefield

 National Parks Service

Each December, the Antietam National Battlefield in Sharpsburg, Maryland, holds a Memorial Illumination in honor of the soldiers who fell during the Battle of Antietam during the Civil War. The annual event is presented at the beginning of the holiday season to remind visitors of the sacrifices made by members of the military and their families. 

At twilight during the event, 23,000 luminaries are lit, one for each soldier who was killed, wounded, or went missing during the bloodiest one day battle in American history. The free, five-mile driving tour is the largest memorial illumination in not only the United States but in all of North America as well.

In 2019, the Antietam National Battlefield Memorial Illumination is open to the public starting at 6 p.m. on Saturday, December 7.

Dunker Church at Antietam Battlefield in Sharpsburg, MD
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Location of the Illumination

Antietam National Battlefield is approximately 70 miles northwest of Washington, D.C., 65 miles west of Baltimore, 23 miles west of Frederick, and 13 miles south of Hagerstown. The main entrance to the Illumination is Richardson Avenue off Maryland Route 34. From Boonsboro, travel west on Route 34, and once you arrive, look for a line of cars that will form on the westbound shoulder.

Attending the Illumination

The first memorial illumination took place in 1988, and it continues to be a popular community event, drawing in history lovers from all over the world who enjoy visiting National Battlefields near Washington D.C.  Presented by the American Business Women's Association in cooperation with the Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Antietam National Battlefield Memorial Illumination is a perfect opportunity to get your family in the holiday spirit while learning a bit about Civil War history. Visiting the memorial is a relatively stress-free outing, but there are a few things to keep in mind before you go:

  • The Illumination opens to the public at 6 p.m.
  • Visitors are prohibited from walking the tour route.
  • The vehicle line to enter the memorial can be upwards of two hours long, so be prepared for a long wait.
  • The Antietam National Battlefield Visitor Center closes at 3 p.m. each day, including the day of the Illumination.
  • No bathroom facilities are located along the route.
  • Vehicles must use parking lights only and continue through the event without stopping.

While the date of the Illumination is set for December 7, 2019, inclement weather may delay or cancel the event, and there is no contingency plan for cancellation. Check the weather and visit the Memorial Illumination's official website before you go to verify that the Illumination is taking place this year.

130th Pennsylvania Infantry Monument at Antietam
Wilsilver77 / Getty Images

The Antietam National Battlefield

Antietam National Battlefield is a National Park Service protected area situated on Antietam Creek in Sharpsburg, Washington County, northwestern Maryland. The park commemorates the American Civil War Battle of Antietam that occurred on September 17, 1862. The first memorial illumination was in 1988, and it continues to be a popular community event, drawing in history lovers from all over the world who enjoy visiting National Battlefields near Washington D.C. 

Travelers to the park will find a visitor's center, a national military cemetery, a stone arch known as Burnside's Bridge, and the Pry House Field Hospital Museum in addition to the battlefield site. It's a popular destination for families, not only because of the history but also for the many outdoor activities permitted: 

  • Bicycling is permitted on paved park tour roads and parking lots. Riding is prohibited on all sidewalks, agricultural land, and the Snavely's Ford Trail.
  • Horseback riding, in groups of ten or less, is permitted on all paved roads and designated trails. Riding on paved foot trails, parking areas, or on agricultural lands is prohibited.
  • Fishing is allowed on the Antietam Creek with a valid Maryland Fishing License.
  • Boating or tubing on the Antietam Creek is permitted.
  • Picnicking is allowed, but not in the Antietam National Cemetery, Mumma Cemetery, inside the Dunker Church, inside the Observation Tower, on the Burnside Bridge, or any monument.

While none of these activities are available during the Memorial Illumination, guests are welcome to enjoy the battlefield and activities during the day on Saturday, December 7, 2019. However, the Observation Tower, located along the Sunken Road, will be closed until approximately March 2020 to undergo much-needed repairs.

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