September 1, 2008

The Battle of Chantilly: September 1, 1862

Today is the 146th anniversary of the battle of Chantilly, which was referred to by the Confederates as the battle of Ox Hill. It was a short but intense fight that came on the heels of Second Bull Run and featured a number of unique characteristics. It was one the few Civil War battles that was fought partially in the dark. It also occurred in some of the worst weather conditions imaginable, including a torrential downpour, thunder and lightning that dazzled the senses, and unseasonably chilly weather. On a more gruesome note, Chantilly was one of the relatively few engagements where the bayonet was employed liberally.

I first learned the details of this battle when I moved to northern Virginia’s Fairfax County in the late 90’s due to a work transfer. The 5-acre Ox Hill Battlefield Park was only a few miles from where I lived and worked, so it became a popular spot for peaceful lunches and visits. Also piquing my interest at the time was the realization that no book-length work had ever been published on the battle. I soon set about my research and writing however by the time my book appeared in 2003, it had been relegated to third in line on books about this battle. All three books appeared within a 14 or 15-month timeframe in 2002-03 by authors who all lived in the immediate vicinity of Ox Hill. The first to appear was David Welker’s Tempest at Ox Hill: The Battle of Chantilly, published by the Da Capo Press in 2002. It features an excellent narrative of the battle as well as lengthy bios of Union generals Philip Kearny and Isaac Stevens, both of whom were killed during the brief encounter. Next up was Charles Mauro’s A Monumental Storm: The Battle of Chantilly, published by the Fairfax County Historical Society. This work is an oblong-shaped paperback that offers a general overview and description of the battle, but also features Mauro’s superb modern photographs of the extant battlefield and related sites. Your humble correspondent’s book appeared soon after and features numerous period illustrations, participant photos and primary sources not found in the other works.

The aforementioned 5-acre park has been recently renovated with the rededication ceremonies set for today. The rededication marks the completion of a $700,000 project to construct new trails, historic interpretive kiosks and signage, as well as landscape restoration and parking improvements. Sadly, the rest of the battlefield is gone, the victim of northern Virginia’s volcanic growth that continues to this day. In fact, even the modern view on page 73 of my book now no longer exists. The woods in that picture, a place where the 21st Massachusetts lost over 100 men in a single volley, have been cut down within the past couple of years. An apartment building / office complex now sits atop the hill. I wonder if anyone knew….

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