Historic America

Ox Hill Battlefield Park in Fairfax, Virginia

This small park preserves the spot where a Union general fell during the American Civil War.

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The Battle of Ox Hill (aka Battle of Chantilly) was fought on September 1, 1862 between Union forces commanded by Maj. Gen. Philip Kearny and Brig. Gen. Isaac Stevens and Confederate forces commanded by Maj. Gen. Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson in Fairfax County, Virginia during the American Civil War. The battle was technically a draw. Union forces retreated, but succeeded in stopping Jackson’s advance. It concluded the 1862 Northern Virginia Campaign.

After being soundly defeated at the Second Battle of Bull Run, Union Maj. Gen. John Pope faced pressure to turn and attack Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. To retain the initiative, Lee directed Maj. Gen. Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson’s corps to flank Pope and cut off his army’s lifeline to Washington, D.C. Jackson’s exhausted men, however, moved uncharacteristically slowly.

Pope sent two Union divisions under Maj. Gen. Phillip Kearny and Brig. Gen. Isaac Stevens, totaling approximately 6,000 men, to block Jackson’s advance. On September 1st, though severely outnumbered, Stevens’ division attacked Jackson’s corps on Ox Hill. The attack was initially successful, but Brig. Gen. Jubal Early’s brigade counter-attacked and drove them back. Stevens was killed leading his men in a spirited charge.

A driving rainstorm erupted as Maj. Gen. Kearny’s division arrived on the field. Visibility was so low, Kearny accidentally rode into enemy lines and was shot and killed. Fighting was hand-to-hand, since the rain-soaked gunpowder was useless. Union Brig. Gen. David B. Birney ordered a retreat, and in addition to the deaths of two division commanders, Union forces lost 1,300 casualties. Confederate forces suffered approximately 800 killed or wounded.

The battle ended the Northern Virginia Campaign, as Pope withdrew his shattered and demoralized army into the Washington defenses. Pope’s Army of Virginia was disbanded and George B. McClellan took command of Union forces around Washington. Robert E. Lee turned his attention to the invasion of Maryland, which would culminate in the Battle of Antietam a little more than two weeks later.

Fought between Northern and Southern states from 1861 to 1865, the American Civil War erupted over questions of slavery and the primacy of the Federal government over individual states. It ended with Northern victory and restoration of the Union. Nearly 850,000 people died in the conflict, the bloodiest war in U.S. history. Most of the war’s battles were fought in the South, devastating its economy and leaving generational scars.

Much of the original Ox Hill battlefield has been lost to development. An overlay map at Ox Hill Battlefield Park depicts troop movements transposed over a modern satellite map, which shows the cornfield where Birney’s brigade advanced and Kearny was killed is now a subdivision. The park only preserves 4.8 acres of the original battlefield where Isaac Stevens fell leading the 79th New York “Highlanders.” A Confederate veteran marked the spot with a white quartz stone.

Twin granite monuments were erected to generals Philip Kearny and Isaac Stevens in 1915.

Ox Hill Battlefield Park, at 4134 West Ox Road in Fairfax, Virginia, is open daily from 8:00am to 6:00pm. There is a paved parking lot, informational kiosks, and an interpretive loop trail that tells the story of the battle. The walking trail, parking lot, and signs are relatively new additions and a great example of a modern preservation effort.

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