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The Battle of Ox Hill / Chantilly

The Battle of Ox Hill / Chantilly

The Civil War and Fairfax County

Just as things were looking up with regard to Fairfax County’s economy in the 1850s –– population was increasing, farms were productive, mills were humming and businesses to support the growing population were on the rise, all contributing to a growing middle class –– the Civil War struck.

Those wielding power in the county through the 1850s bore the familiar names of Mason, Fairfax, Fitzhugh, Washington and Burke, among others, but the influx of northerners (see Team Fairfax Insider, June 24) was beginning to dilute that power, with a number of them taking an anti-slavery position. However, in a vote for secession May 23, 1861, in Fairfax County, threats of violence against those who were anti-secession kept many away. The result was 1,231 for secession and 289 against.

After shots were fired at Fort Sumter in South Carolina and pro-secession votes took place, President Abraham Lincoln ordered Gen. Winfield Scott and 11 regiments into Virginia. The rebels made no attempt to hold Alexandria, withdrawing three volunteer companies from Fairfax to Manassas, while Union troops built a ring of forts along the Alexandria/Fairfax line to defend Washington, the Union’s worst fear was that Confederate forces would try to take the capital city.

With the Union holding some railroads and the Confederacy others, they became inaccessible for shipping produce, which greatly affected county farmers. Fairfax County essentially became a “no-man’s land,” with the Union on one side and the Confederacy on the other. Both sides sent scouting parties into the county and both claimed victory after a June 1 Union cavalry raid on Fairfax Court House.

Northern newspapers and politicians clamored for Union troops to quickly move south and take Richmond. Lincoln agreed and on July 16, 1861, troops marched out of Washington and Alexandria through Fairfax County, with residents in their path fleeing to safer homes of relatives or friends. But Union troops dallied on the way to Manassas, giving Confederate Gen. Joseph E. Johnston’s forces from Winchester time to reinforce Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard’s men when heavy fighting began. One of those brigades, under Thomas J. Jackson stood “like a stone wall” and turned the tide of the first Battle of Manassas (or Bull Run as it is also called), resulting in the Yankees’ hasty retreat back to Washington.

The presence of warring armies greatly disrupted Fairfax County residents’ lives with soldiers plundering their produce, livestock and other possessions such as furniture. For their safety, many left the county. There was talk of starting a home guard militia to protect against Confederate marauders but it never got far. A year into the Civil War, Fairfax had companies in several Confederate regiments but not a single one in the Federal army. Some of this would be attributed to the number of Quaker pacifists among the Union sympathizers in the county.

In August 1863, federal authorities realized that Lee and Jackson had turned north from Richmond and were threatening to cross the Rappahannock. An attempt was made to reinforce Union Gen. John Pope’s troops but again it was too slow. Jackson outflanked Pope’s troops and got behind his position in Manassas. Subsequently, a year and a month after First Manassas, Confederate troops again defeated the Union army on the banks of Bull Run Creek. With casualties in the thousands, Union wounded were taken to Fairfax Station to await transportation to hospitals in Fairfax, Alexandria and Washington. A 40-year-old government clerk, Clara Barton, was among those who tended to them. She would go on to establish the American Red Cross.

The only major battle of the war fought on Fairfax soil was at Ox Hill, also known as the Battle of Chantilly (on West Ox Road, just down from the present-day Government Center Complex) as Union troops were trying to make an orderly retreat from Bull Run on Sept. 1. When the Confederates tried to cut off Pope’s forces, two Union generals, Philip Kearny and Isaac Stevens, rallied their troops bravely and while they were both killed, Pope was able to escape with his army and prevent further advance toward Washington.

Under John Underwood, an auditor of the U.S. Treasury, a great deal of Confederate property in Fairfax County was confiscated during and after the war. This was noted in the minute books of the Fairfax Court. The Court itself did not meet at the Court House in Fairfax due to the threat of rebel troops in the area. None was as feared as John Singleton Mosby. Like a ghost, Mosby struck throughout the Northern Virginia area, taunting Union commanders and even going so far as to capture Union Gen. Edwin H. Stoughton and two captains in their beds in the middle of the night.

The two sides continued their deadly game of cat-and-mouse until the commanding general of the Confederacy, Robert E. Lee, finally conceded defeat at Appomattox in April 1865. But it was a very long time until Fairfax County, like other parts of the South, was able to recover from the devastating effects of the Civil War.

Source: Fairfax County Virginia, a History (1978)

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