Not too long ago, if you blinked as you drove down one crowded stretch of Route 608 in Fairfax County, Virginia, you were likely to miss a small, ragged plot of land generously called Ox Hill Battlefield Park.
Ed Wenzel and a small group of Civil War enthusiasts in Northern Virginia, including the late Brian Pohanka and venerable Clark “Bud” Hall, knew that feeling well. For some time, they had watched as the site of one of the war’s most notable, yet strangely forgotten, battles was being overrun by large commercial and residential developers, given a pass by seemingly indifferent government officials. They realized they had to do something.
The Battle of Ox Hill (Chantilly) was fought during a blinding thunderstorm on September 1, 1862, two days after the Second Battle of Bull Run and 16 days before the Battle of Antietam. About 15,000 Confederates under the guidance of such famed generals as Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, A.P. Hill, J.E.B. Stuart and Maxcy Gregg squared off against 6,000 Federal troops on 500 acres of partially wooded farmland; the Union would lose two of its most revered generals in heroic fashion that day: Isaac Stevens and the one-armed Philip Kearny.
The engagement ended in a draw, but the Federals succeeded in preventing Jackson’s men from overtaking John Pope’s retreating army at Fairfax Court House and perhaps even continuing on to threaten Washington, D.C., itself.
Since Ox Hill was the only major Civil War action to take place in Fairfax County, Wenzel was mystified that the county government had made no effort over the years to preserve its legacy. Hall, Pohanka and Wenzel joined forces to form the Chantilly Battlefield Association (CBA) and, aided by a handful of eager volunteers, began what would become a 22-year quest to right a wrong.
When the CBA formed in 1986, developers owned nearly all of the battlefield’s original 500 acres and were intending to move two disregarded monuments to Kearny and Stevens, erected in 1915, to a small “historic park” being planned nearby. The developers eventually agreed to establish the park on a 2.4-acre parcel of land surrounding the monuments and proffered $110,000 for park improvements. The CBA also hounded government officials to purchase an adjacent 2.4-acre lot that doubled the park’s size.
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