Traces of the Civil War in Northern Virginia

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Nestled in a tiny wooded area off West Ox Road in Fairfax, across the street from a busy shopping plaza, is a small park. The shoppers packing the TJ Maxx across the street and cars whizzing by at all hours give no indication that more than 1,500 soldiers were killed or wounded in a bloody follow-up to the battle of Second Manassas, Sept. 1, 1862.

The Battle of Chantilly, as the Union army called it, or Battle of Ox Hill as it was known to the Confederates, was spread out over more than 500 acres of farmland and woods, but today just 4.8 acres are preserved at Ox Hill Battlefield Park. Like many sites of Civil War action in Northern Virginia, much of it was paved or built over to make way for new homes, businesses and roads. For those willing to take a little closer look at their own backyard, traces of the Civil War can still be found, 150 years after the fighting came to an end.

Ox Hill

After Second Manassas, Union troops in the exhausted and defeated Army of Virginia, attempted to retreat to Washington. Confederate Gen. Stonewall Jackson, hoping to make the most of the opportunity, attempted to cut off the retreat by sending his divisions to engage the troops. But Union divisions led by Generals Isaac Stevens and Philip Kearny attacked first.

In the midst of a heavy thunderstorm, Stevens' troops moved in three lines up a slope toward a thick wood, where the Confederate troops were waiting. Stevens' own son, Captain Hazard Stevens, was shot in the hip and arm as the southerners opened fire. Confederate fire intensified - but Stevens was undeterred. He seized the flag of his old regiment, the 79th New York "Highlanders," and led the charge up the hill himself, calling "Highlanders! My Highlanders! Follow your general!"

His dramatic death was followed quickly by another major blow to the Union forces. General Kearny, warned that a nearby cornfield was filled with rebel forces, impetuously rode out alone to scout out the situation. He realized his mistake too late, and was quickly shot down.

Today, a small granite stump within the park marks the spot where Kearny is believed to have been killed. Two large monuments are dedicated to the memory of Kearny and Stevens. The Fairfax County Park Authority website offers a 25-minute audio tour for visitors.

Bristoe Station Battlefield Heritage Park

A tour of Ox Hill isn't likely to take longer than an hour for even the most dedicated Civil War buff, so those planning a day trip will probably want to add another destination to their itinerary. Hop on I-66 and continue past the Manassas exit, leaving the more famous national park for another day. Instead, take a walk through the 133-acre Bristoe Station Battlefield Heritage Park, where on Aug. 27, 1862, Union and Confederate armies set the stage for Second Manassas at the Battle of Kettle Run. The fight started after Jackson's troops raided Union supplies and ended after the federal troops withdrew. The park also includes the site of the Oct. 14, 1863, Battle of Bristoe Station.

Though the park is listed as a registered historical site within the county, it encompasses only about 20 percent of the battlefield. In 2014, Preservation Virginia included the battlefield on its 2014 Most Endangered Sites List due to encroaching development.

Ben Lomond Historic Site

Just a 15-minute drive from Bristoe Station is the Ben Lomond Historic Site, which provides a different Civil War experience. The two-story home, converted to a field hospital after First Manassas, was built by Benjamin Tasker Chinn in the 1830s. Slaves harvested corn and wheat, and looked after about 500 sheep. Specialized slavery tours are offered periodically at the site, in part because Ben Lomond has the only existing quarters of its kind in the county, according to the Prince William County website. It's a poignant reminder of some of the causes that led to the fighting in the first place.

Stachyra Lopez is the author ofImages of America: Centreville and Chantilly (Arcadia Publishing, 2014).She can be reached at mstachyralopez@catholicherald.com.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015

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