Ox Hill Battlefield Park
Here in Fairfax County, where so much of our nation's story has played out over the centuries, roadways, malls and housing -- representing the very prosperity for which our forefathers worked and fought - replaced (and displaced) villages, farmlands and meadows, and at Ox Hill, much of the hallowed ground of a Civil War battlefield.
Only a small section of the original battlefield remains, about five acres saved from the jaws of progress by Civil War preservationists in the 1980s. After all, the Battle of Ox Hill (also known as the Battle of Chantilly) wasn't just a skirmish, it was a significant battle - right here in Fairfax County -- where 20,000 Union and Confederate troops clashed during a fierce thunderstorm. The casualty count was high - 516 Confederate and an estimated 700 to 1000 Union troops killed or wounded. Among those who died were two Union generals, Isaac Stevens and Philip Kearny. Today, two granite markers memorialize their sacrifice. The markers were erected in 1915 on land deeded by John Ballard, a former Confederate cavalryman.
Ox Hill Battlefield Park lies near the intersection of West Ox Road and Monument Drive, surrounded by commercial and private development. Each year on Memorial Day, folks gather at Ox Hill for a wreath-laying ceremony. This year, three color guards took part: the Ancient Order of Hibernians, reenactors from the Fairfax Rifles Living History Society (the 17th Virginia Infantry) portraying Confederate soldiers, and the 28th Massachusetts Infantry portraying Union soldiers.
And this year, the ceremony focused not only on the past - but the future. The Master Plan to renovate the Park has been completed and the Interpretative Plan and Design are underway. Now, Ox Hill Battlefield Park is getting some needed and well-deserved attention. The park is being designed and interpreted by the Fairfax County Park Authority with guidance from the Chantilly Battlefield Association and a Citizen's Task Force, formed during the Master Plan Process.
Elizabeth Crowell, who heads up the Cultural Resource section of the Park Authority comments: "We're very excited to have the opportunity to work with the Chantilly Battlefield Association on this important interpretive project for the park, which is a stop on the Civil War Trails. The interpretive additions and other restorations will make its history much more accessible and alive for county citizens and visitors."
Some of the plans for the park include:
Edward T. Wenzel of the Chantilly Battlefield Association has been involved with Ox Hill's preservation efforts since 1986. In a recent report about Ox Hill Battlefield Park, he summarizes the significance of the battle and the importance of historical preservation for every community:
"Here we have the largest and probably the most significant historical event ever to occur in the county of Fairfax, yet when you mention it to most people, they give you a blank stare. Few know that in the early September days of 1862, Gen. Robert E. Lee's entire army of Northern Virginia was in the county, between Ox Hill and Chantilly; or that Union Gen. John Pope's Army of Virginia, with attached units from Gen. McClellan's Army of the Potomac, were in retreat from Centreville to Fairfax and Alexandria.
During those critical days of September, 1862, when the Federal government in Washington was in a state of panic, more than 150,000 troops of both sides with hundreds of artillery pieces and thousands of horses, mules and wagons were in motion within the county. And then there were thousands of maimed and wounded soldiers clustered about St. Mary's church at Fairfax Station being ministered to by Clara Barton and other nurses and surgeons as they awaited the locomotives and box cars that would take them to hospitals in Alexandria and Washington.
The Civil War had come to Fairfax County in full force in September, 1862. As the Ox Hill/Chantilly battle became the end of the Second Manassas Campaign, it also signaled the start of the Maryland Campaign that would take many of these same soldiers across the Potomac River to South Mountain, Harper's Ferry, Antietam and Sharpsburg when tens of thousands more would fight and die in the horrific sectional struggle that was the Civil War.
It's only through education and outreach to the community that we can preserve our heritage. Perhaps if more people in the 1970s and 1980s had known about Ox Hill and its role in the Civil War, then perhaps more of the battlefield and Fairfax County's heritage could have been saved. When heritage clashes with development interests, it's our duty and responsibility as citizens, including county planners and supervisors, to protect the common heritage from unnecessary destruction. These places, these touchstones of our past make our county unique and build pride in the community."