An old veteran dries his eyes as he looks upon a stone monument which bears his father’s name. A hand lands on his elbow. The old soldier looks down and nods with a small smile pursing his quivering lips.
Mr. John Ballard, a veteran of the Civil War himself and bound to a wheelchair in his later years, offers his hand. General Hazard Stevens shakes hands with a man who he would have shot at fifty years earlier, at the battle of Ox Hill,(Chantilly).
Sept 1, 1862 Chantilly Virginia
Disaster has struck the Army of the Potomac. General John Pope has been soundly defeated at 2nd Manassas. Confederate General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, commanding the Left Wing Corps of Lee’s Army, marches his 15,000 men east towards Washington. His objective is to prevent General Pope from reaching Washington.
They don’t expect to meet General Jessie Reno’s IX Corps. Reno orders General Isaac Stevens’ division forward traveling north along a narrow ox cart road between a cornfield and an open grass field.
Within Stevens‘ Division are the Scottish 79th New York and the Irish 28th Massachusetts Infantry, the 46th New York, the 50th and 100th Penn, and the 8th Michigan. General Stevens’ son, Captain Hazard Stevens leads skirmishers into action and is wounded twice early in the contest. General Stevens orders his son from the field and continues the attack. Hazard Stevens will never again see his father alive, after this moment.
Jackson’s men are well deployed and well supported along the north side of the field behind a snake rail fence as storm clouds gather. They easily outnumber Stevens’ division.
Another regiment, also part of Reno’s Corps, the 21st Massachusetts Infantry, under the command of Colonel William S. Clark moves forward into some nearby woods. They fall prey to a vicious Confederate ambush and brutal fighting ensues. After an hour of intense fighting and taking heavy casualties, the 21st Mass retreats.
Out of the 400 men in the regiment, they lost 22 killed, 98 wounded and 26 captured.
Not far, Major General Philip Kearny (1st Division ,III Corps) is alerted to the engagement and rushes forward to support Stevens. General Kearny, a graduate of West Point, had served with Lee and Jackson in Mexico in 1846, where Kearny lost an arm. He is highly respected by his Confederate counterparts.
Back on the grassy field, General Stevens leads his division forward towards the Confederate line. Advancing on the enemy, thee 79th endures several casualties, including the the color bearer of the 79th, who collapses. Stevens dismounts and runs to the color guard of the 79th.
“Highlanders My Highlanders Follow me my Highlanders!” yells General Stevens as he picks up the flag.
They are the last words he says. A Confederate minie ball crashes through his face and he falls lifeless with the flag floating to the ground over him like a shroud. Upon the General’s death, Colonel Benjamin C. Christ assumes command and in the rage over seeing their commander fall, the men surge forward and push the enemy back and gain a foothold past the fence. But soon the overwhelming Confederate numbers take their toll. After holding the hard fought ground for a short time, the division begins to fall back.
In the cornfield to the west, General Kearny encounters remnants
of the battered 21st Mass.
“By God, form your battalion.” The General orders.
“We’re shot up and spent, General,” an officer informs Kearny.
Kearny rides ahead expecting to meet with General Stevens, unaware that he had fallen. Suddenly, Kearny halts his horse when he comes across a group of confederates, their uniforms by darkened by the rain.
“Who are you men?” He demands.
“Surrender General!” A confederate officer responds, raising his sword.
Kearny turns his horse and spurs it to a gallop, but it’s too late.
The confederates open fire, killing Kearny, who falls from his horse.
After two and a half hours, the battle is over as the rain prevents both sides from firing their muskets and visibility becomes poor.
Kearny’s body is taken to Jackson. Saddened by his old friend’s death, Jackson sends word to General Lee who orders that the body be returned under flag of truce to the Union rear guard along with a letter for the family.
The Union lose 1,300 of the 6,000 men engaged in the action while the Confederates lose approximately 800 out of 15,000 men. These numbers may sound like a lot, and by today’s standards they would be unacceptable, but back then, this would be considered a small engagement with nominal losses.
Consider that two weeks after this battle at Antietam, 23,000 men will fall and in Gettysburg in 1863, it will be 50,000. Compared to those engagements, Ox Hill(Chantilly) is very small. Consequently, this battle is barely mentioned in history books or mentioned as an afterthought to the battle of 2nd Manassas, where the Union was soundly beaten and where many historical experts believe, Lee had achieved his finest victory
Although the ramifications it had were greater than people realize. Stevens succeeded in taking Jackson’s attention away from Pope and force him to engage and thus, allowed what was left of Pope’s army to reach Washington safely.
The battlefield where this took place is not far from where Fair Oaks Mall now stands.
For years, Civil War preservationists have battled developers over this land. Unfortunately, the wrong side won this war. Now where the battle took place is Fairfax Towne Center and an apartment complex. It is doubtful that any of the shoppers, storeowners or residents have any idea of the price that was paid on that very ground.
In 1915, two monuments to the two generals were dedicated on what was once the Reid Farm, then the Fruit Vale Farm, owned by Civil War veteran John Ballard. they still exist in a small little park off of West Ox Road. There is also an equestrian statue monument over the grave of General Kearny in Arlington National Cemetery.
If you were to search online for information on this battle you will find an animated map which shows in an overlay of the battlefield over a satellite map of the area, where the battle raged from start to finish. It is very helpful tool in understanding how the battle spread through the area and how badly outnumbered Kearny and Stevens were.