It’s hard to believe that this tiny historic battlefield in Chantilly, wedged between a Safeway supermarket and rows of apartment complexes, was the site of some of the most vicious fighting that occurred in Fairfax County during the Civil War.
Hundreds attended events on Saturday that commemorated the sesquicentennial of the battle that occurred on Sept. 1, 1862. Known as the Battle of Ox Hill (the Confederate name) or the Battle of Chantilly (the Union name), the conflict was the largest organized battle of the Civil War fought in the county.
Although the fighting took place over a 500-acre area, the 4.5-acre Ox Hill Battlefield Park is the only remaining preserved remnant of the bloodshed. Ox Hill is one of hundreds of identified Civil War sites in Fairfax County.
“All the work that has saved this place and turned it into a park has been phenomenal,” Sully District Supervisor Michael Frey told the crowd. “This is a day for reflection and a day to remember the troops that fought and died here.”
Historians agree that the Chantilly battle in 1862, after the union forces were humiliated at the Battle of Second Manassas, was a turning point in the war. If the southern forces of Gens. Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson had been successful at cutting off and capturing the retreating Union Army, the entire outcome of the war could have been different.
“Really, this battle can’t be overestimated,” said John Tuohy, of Arlington, a Union soldier re-enactor and amateur historian who has studied the battle. “The Union forces were demoralized already and to lose an entire Army, that would have been difficult.”
Much of the battle centered on a Confederate encampment at what is now the football field at Chantilly High School. Both sides softened up the opposition with an artillery bombardment that was so relentless that residents in the Greenbriar community are still finding unexploded ordnance in their backyards. It ended with a massive thunderstorm that made ammunition useless and reduced fighting to bloody hand-to-hand combat. Historians think at least 1,000 Union troops died or were injured. The Confederates counted 516 casualties, according to the county’s official history of the battle.
The significance of the site was apparent to Sharon Kuehn, of Greenbriar, who brought her family.
“This is wonderful,” said Kuehn, who recently moved here from the Los Angeles area. “I didn’t even know that this park was here until we got the email about the sesquicentennial.”
Jenee Lindner, of Fairfax, a civilian re-enactor, said the celebration reminded her of how resilient county residents of the Civil War era had to be. Their farms were turned into battlefields, crops were devastated and the threat of starvation was a constant companion, she said.
“It just tells me how resilient people were and how they had to be that way,” she said. “They showed a great strength.”