A Boy Scout lights a luminaria at the Fredericksburg National Cemetery annual Memorial Day Saturday event.

Thousands Visit Fredericksburg National Cemetery for Annual Memorial Day Luminary

by | May 30, 2016 | Government

A sea of 15,300 luminaria glowed in Fredericksburg National Cemetery from 8 – 11 p.m. May 28, 2016, for the 21st annual Memorial Day Saturday ceremony.

Nearly 9,000 people attended, the largest crowd ever, according to Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park Chief Historian John Hennessy.

The 2016 observance marked 150 years to the week after the first burials in Fredericksburg National Cemetery.

The luminaria tradition began in 1995, when representatives of local Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts presented to National Park Service staff the idea of starting an annual luminaria program to pay tribute to American soldiers who have given their lives for the United States.

Members of the Mattaponi and Aquia Districts of the Boy Scouts of America, the Commonwealth Council Girl Scouts of the USA, and the American Heritage Girls and Trail Life Boys of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Fredericksburg each year assemble the luminary bags at each grave site during the day, then light the 15,300 candles — one for each soldier buried there — as evening falls.

During the three-hour commemoration, visitors walked the cemetery, listening to National Park staff posted throughout tell the stories of soldiers buried there. Every 30-minutes there was a collective silent pause, as a bugler played “Taps.”

Most of those buried in Fredericksburg National Cemetery are Union soldiers from the Civil War. There are a fewer number of plots for soldiers of the Spanish American War, World War I and World War II. The National Cemetery was closed in 1940 to new internments.

Some 80 percent of the Civil War soldiers buried at Fredericksburg National Cemetery were never identified. Many of the graves contain more than one body. For this reason, two or more luminarias are placed at each stone.

The Fredericksburg National Cemetery Luminaria is coordinated by the Friends of the Fredericksburg Area Battlefields. Contributions to support the annual event may be made to the Friends of the Fredericksburg Area Battlefields, Luminaria Fund, P.O. Box 3112, Fredericksburg, Va. 22402.

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