A lot of us love battlefields, and we show that love in ways great and small. When a battlefield is really lucky, it has one or two “guardian angels” who spend their free time performing small acts of kindness and service that make the place a little better for the rest of us, even when the rest of us don’t notice it.
Today, I did notice one such act of battlefield kindness, and I wanted to call attention to it because such acts so often go unacknowledged. That’s true here on the battlefields around Fredericksburg but also on battlefields across America. In that respect, my tip of the hat today to Joe Lafluer is a tip of the hat to a whole lot of unsung battlefield guardian angles.
On the eastern edge of the original Chancellorsville battlefield, Little Billy Mahone’s Confederate brigade dug a line of fortifications along a ridgeline that bisected the Orange Turnpike near Zoan Church. Today, only a fragment of that line exists—in fact, only a portion of the ridge itself still exists. Development of a Home Depot and adjacent strip mall led to the excavation of the east face of the ridge, although to the credit of the developer, the Silver Companies, they preserved the earthworks, installed interpretive signs, and created a small park.
Riverbend High School sits on the west face of the ridge, and students often cut over the earthworks and through the park to get to the strip mall and its nearby fast food joints. As a result, the park needs a good dose of TLC every so often. The high school’s history honor society tries to caretake the ground, but keep up with it can be a challenge.
As it happens, Joe walks his dog, Kasper—a very sweet white pit bull—up the hill to the park every so often. It’s one of Kasper’s favorite walks, Joe has told me.
Many, many, green trees were felled in the great ice blizzard of the past winter. Many just had their tops slammed to the ground by a concrete-like ice. Some lived! Some eventually even righted themselves, but two scrub pines did not. They’ve blocked the asphalt trail all year, and a new path has begun to be worn around them. I used a pretty safe, battery-powered chain saw and pruners to cut the tops off that were blocking the trail. One of the two did right itself a bit when I removed the weight. They were pruned just above branching nodes to not leave dead material that attracts bugs and disease. I’ve been doing others all year and these are amongst the smallest. Took only about an hour.
While there, Joe noticed part of a snake-rail fence had come undone, so he went home, got a drill gun, and returned to repair the fence (and sporting his fashionable ECW hat as he did so, I noticed!). He also picked up some trash. “Masks are the new debris favorite!” he noted. As he worked, the high school marching band serenaded him from the far side of the ridgeline.
Joe credits his relationship with the Central Virginia Battlefields Trust and ECW for his stewardship mindset. His work, he said, was “affected and enabled by my relationship with the organizations and the preservationist ideals learned through both of them.”
So, a tip of the hat to you, Joe, for taking the time to show a little love to a battlefield you love. May you work be an inspiration to others!