As part of our Facebook LIVE broadcasts on Tuesday, we paid a visit to the Zoan Church ridge on the eastern edge of the Chancellorsville battlefield (parts one and two). It’s one of the out-of-the-way parts of the battlefield that many folks don’t get the chance to see. Home Depot, when it carved out space for its plaza at Harrison Crossing, preserved the crest of the ridge and the Confederate works that run along it. To get there, you can park in a small lot next to the hill and follow a paved path to the top.
But there was more atop the ridge than we showed on the video—because it was too ugly to see.
On the far side of the ridge, a path leads down to a local high school. Students park in the Home Depot parking lot and hike over the ridge to school so they can avoid paying for parking permits to park on school property. Because it lies on one of the paths over the ridge, students have turned the ridge-top park into a hang out.
And, unfortunately, a garbage dump.
As we broadcast live from the ridge on Wednesday, we couldn’t really show viewers around too much because of all the litter strewn across the ground: drink cups from a nearby Wendy’s, scrap paper, water bottles, fast food containers. There was even a pair of boxers hanging from the branches of a bush (viewers watching the broadcast heard me saw “underwear” instead of “unawares”—and I’m sure there are a dozen jokes we could make about that!).
A wayside sign at the top of the hill that explained the position has long been spray-painted over. ECW writer Joe LaFluer emailed me last year to point out the vandalism, his indignation and disappointment nearly palpable through the internet. “Why would somebody do this?” he asked in frustration. Why, indeed?
On the way down the hill, I passed a teenager walking up. I tried to say hello, but he kept his gaze straight ahead, looking past me as though I wasn’t even there. He was drinking from a styrofoam cup from a nearby Sonic. I wondered if he would just toss the cup on the ground like so many others had.
It’s shame that we couldn’t show off the area better to folks on Facebook because of the clutter. Now that the craziness of the past few days is over, though, I plan to go back up there with some gloves and garbage bags and do what I can to clean things up a bit. Joe has done so in the past, and it’s up to me to follow his good example. My disgust isn’t enough; I need to take what action I can to remedy the situation, even if it only turns out to be a temporary fix.
I suppose this is where battlefield preservation meets battlefield conservation: once a property is saved, how is it maintained and protected? Sometimes, stewardship of these hallowed grounds comes down to small acts of caretaking like this, picking up one piece of litter at a time.