April of 1862 brought bitter fighting to a rural area on the banks of the Tennessee River. On April 6-7 the Union and Confederate armies faced each other in a battle that resulted in 23,746 killed, missing, and wounded soldiers. This month marks the 155th anniversary of that battle. To commemorate the brave men (and women!) that fought here, Shiloh National Military Park presented an illumination, Flames of Remembrance, on April 8th, 2017.
Working just a few hours a day, 214 volunteers folded more than 24,000 bags in five days and filled them with sand and candles in just four! I delivered some to local schools and senior centers so that everyone could be a part of this event. With such an incredible community interest, we set a park record for completing preparation for this event.
On April 8, 263 volunteers spent the day placing and lighting 23,746 luminaries on the battlefield. Volunteers for the illumination were also participants in the 2017 Civil War Trust Park Day and received t-shirts for the occasion. A nine mile route was lined with luminaries and took visitors through a tour of all the illuminated areas. Each area was adopted by volunteers who were able to set the luminaries out however they liked. Some volunteers made state flags, spelled out USA or a general’s name, and even made giant outlines of their state by its monument on the battlefield.
Our local volunteers were joined by volunteers from Texas, Missouri, Louisiana, Alabama, Kentucky, Ohio, Oregon, Florida, Mississippi, Arkansas, Illinois, and Tennessee. VIPs included Boy Scouts, Girls Scouts, high school key clubs, our Friends of Shiloh group, civil war enthusiasts, church groups, and nature enthusiasts. Even our Shiloh eagle photographers took time away from watching the eagles to make a giant eagle out of luminaries!
Since the event I have heard from some of our volunteers. A high school history teacher sent me an email after spending the day volunteering. Here’s a snippet from his letter: “Driving through the park around 9:00 pm, it was unbelievable to see the sheer number of lights throughout the dark battlefield. It was beautiful and tragic at the same time. The event was absolutely awe inspiring and really meant a lot to me as a Civil War history teacher to not just be teaching about the Civil War in my classes, but to be actively participating in keeping Civil War history alive and relevant for others in our country today. I feel even more connected to those soldiers and to Shiloh today because of my involvement.”
Ladies and gentlemen, fellow SCA’s and CVA’s, this is what this program is about. The countless hours of writing, rewriting, meetings, planning, folding, filling, stacking, counting, recounting, emailing, talking to local Rotaries, speaking at Kiwanis clubs, more counting, more rewriting, and a little bit of crying paid off when I drove through the route and saw the breathtaking sight of 23,746 luminaries lighting up the battlefield. It was deeply meaningful and absolutely beautiful.
My favorite part of the event by far was meeting the 477 volunteers who made this event happen. Every single volunteer was overjoyed to be helping us with this event and they brightened my experience at Shiloh more than they will ever know. In the weeks after the illumination, I reflected on the time leading up to the event and realized that I missed getting emails and calls from people interested in volunteering. Those were some of the most pleasant and interesting conversations I have had as a Centennial Volunteer Ambassador. So to the Student Conservation Association I say thank you for allowing me to have this wonderful experience.
*All photos courtesy of National Park Service