Though the battle on September 1, 1862, raged across nearly 500 acres of land, just 4.8 acres of the Ox Hill (Chantilly) Battlefield have been preserved. In fact, the loss of this battlefield in northern Virginia was one of the main incidents that sparked the modern preservation movement.
It can be tempting to overlook the lost battlefield and fragments of visible history. However, Fairfax County has invested significant funds in the interpretation of the nearly 5 acres which is now a park-like setting. A series of interpretive panels, paved walking path, benches, and preserved memorials to fallen Union generals.
The battle of Ox Hill (Chantilly) came in the aftermath of Second Manassas. After decisively pushing Union General John Pope back to Centerville, Confederate General Robert E. Lee wanted to press into a new offensive movement. “Stonewall” Jackson headed north west, then turned east, following the Little River Turnpike and marching to the flank and rear of Pope’s army. If the road network could be captured, Pope could be cut off from Washington D.C.
Both sides blundered toward the fight on September 1. Alerted to the danger of Jackson’s corps on their flank and rear, Union brigades turned to fight. The Confederates took a defensive position on Ox Hill, and Union troops attacked. Two brigades from General Reno’s IX Corps arrived under the command of General Isaac Stevens, and later in the fight General Philip Kearny’s Union division also arrived. The battle exploded during a late afternoon thunderstorm. Dramatic charges moved across open farm fields and through the cornfield, artillery shot into a local orchard, and a couple of Union regiments tangled with each other in the woods on their immediate flank.
Union General Isaac Stevens rallied the 79th New York Highlanders, urging them to charge the Confederate line again. As he rushed forward, Stevens passed his son who lay on the ground wounded. The son would survive, but the father was shot in the head moments later and died instantly.
Union General Philip Kearny took charge of the battlefield, organizing another attack. Ox Hill claimed its second Union general that day. While probing a gap in the Confederate lines, Kearny ran into enemy soldiers who demanded his surrender. The general turned to gallop back toward safety and was mortally wounded through the body, falling from his horse and dying quickly.
The battle was inconclusive, with the Confederates holding the field in a tactical victory while the Union took the strategic victory, retreating to Washington without further serious opposition. The battle of Ox Hill serves as a connector between the summer and autumn campaigns, an ending of Pope’s Virginia campaign and a beginning to Lee’s Maryland Campaign.
If you chose to visit the preserved land of Ox Hill/Chantilly battlefield, you’ll be able to walk along part of the edge of the infamous cornfield and see the sloping knoll where Union veterans claimed Stevens and Kearny died. If you’d like a more immersive and farther reaching experience than the interpretive signs, consider checking out American Battlefield Trust’s app for Ox Hill which includes additional points of interest across the area that is now lost battlefield.
For more information about visiting Ox Hill Battlefield Park or taking a virtual tour, please visit: https://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/parks/ox-hill