150 Years Ago: Do you prefer Ox Hill or Chantilly?

The Northern Virginia Campaign came to a crashing close, in more ways than one, today (September 1) in 1862.  In a battle fought just miles from the outer defenses of the nation’s capital, two Federal generals fell while directing troops in a rearguard action – Phil Kearny and Isaac Stevens.  The battle was known as Chantilly or Ox Hill, depending on what side you filed official reports for.

Chantilly 30 Sept 11 170

There are plenty of resources on the web detailing this action.  The Civil War Trust has a battle page with a cartridge-box worth of resources.  And you can tour the battlefield from your computer by way of the markers, if you cannot make the memorial service planned for today at the site.

The episodes surrounding the deaths of Kearny and Stevens are favored with great quotes that thunder through the ages:

  • Stevens, after grabbing the colors of the 79th New York (Cameron Highlanders): “Highlanders, my Highlanders, follow your general!”
  • Kearny, putting aside warnings of the Confederate advance: “The Rebel bullet that can kill me has not yet been molded!” Or alternatively, “They couldn’t hit a barn at this distance!”
  • Confederate General A.P. Hill lamenting Kearny’s death: “You’ve killed Phil Kearny, he deserved a better fate than to die in the mud.”
  • Brigadier General David Birney, who assumed command of Kearny’s division on the field, simply wrote, “He rode from me to examine the ground, and dashing past our lines into those of the enemy, fell victim to his gallant daring.”

When I think of Chantilly, I cannot help but think of the battlefield today.  It was a field that deserved better.  But the preservationists made the best of it.  Even a sliver is better than nothing.  The “Second” battle of Chantilly was, perhaps, also a successful rear-guard action.

But what I find most interesting as I contemplate events 150 years ago today is the weather.  The forecast has a fair chance of thunderstorms rolling through Fairfax County in the afternoon.

Published by Craig Swain

"Historical marker hunter" and Civil War enthusiast.

3 thoughts on “150 Years Ago: Do you prefer Ox Hill or Chantilly?

  1. Craig, in the mid-80’s, I lived about a mile from the Kearny Stevens Memorial Markers, and on alternate mornings, I would run in the deep woods then surrounding the markers. Well on one particular morning in 1986, much to my surprise (and alarm), I observed survey ribbons waving from tree limbs fronting the old granite markers.

    To make a very, very long and tortuous story short, Ed Wenzel, Brian Pohanka and I then met to discuss what we could do to thwart development plans for the Ox Hill Battlefield. This formative meeting resulted in the creation of the Chantilly Battlefield Association and we began an intense, highly contentious public awareness campaign in an effort to persuade Fairfax County officials and the developers to protect this battlefield. The current battlefield park at Ox Hill is the ultimate consequence of that initiative–led in large measure by my dear friend, Ed Wenzel..

    And although we lost most of that vital battlefield to the relentless “wheel of progress,” the sad Chantilly preservation saga led to the formation of the Association of Civil War Sites, Inc., the forerunner of the present day Civil War Trust–now our nation’s largest and most successful battlefield preservation organization.

    So today, 150 years after the battle of Ox Hill, let’s all pause to recognize the sacrifice and courage of those who fought at Chantilly–and to also recall that it is our duty to protect the sacred ground upon which they died.

    We can do no less..

    Clark B. Hall
    Kearny Stevens Memorial Markers

    (My co-Trustees are Ed Wenzel; Cricket Bauer (Brian’s widow) and Bill Styple.)

  2. Bud, I am amazed at your tenacity and love for history to have been and continue to be so involved. I read a similar article in the CWT magazine about how the several of you started the grass roots movement to preserve what was being built/developed over and now think of you “pioneers” every time I drive by. My daughters also know what role you have played and want to get involved more and more as they grow up. Thank you for all you and the other great preservationist minded American’s have done to save so much of what we still have.

    Jim Little
    South Riding, VA

  3. The citizens of Kearny, NJ (of which my town is a suburb) remebers their namesake, Gen. Philip Kearny on the 150th anniversary of his death.

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