Illuminating History

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Whether huddled in the trenches at Petersburg, Va., or camped along the banks of Antietam Creek in rural Maryland, the typical Union or Confederate soldier took comfort in the warm glow of a candle lantern like this one. Our version is an easy weekend project that offers a variety of alternate construction and material options while remaining true to its 19th-century roots.

Candle lanterns have been around for many centuries and you’ve probably seen several styles at antique shops, museums and garage sales. This particular design is based on a lantern from the mid-1800s, used by farmers to light the way when checking on livestock, or hung outside taverns to greet guests. It was also used by millions of soldiers during the Civil War.

Although mass production was not uncommon during the period, small items like lanterns were most often made by local carpenters or blacksmiths. As a result, even though the basic design remained the same, every other aspect of the construction tended to vary with the whims of – or materials available to – the builders. Therefore, it’s possible to customize this project and still make what’s called a “period-correct” reproduction.

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