This past week, Civil War buff Ed Wenzel was honored by the national Civil War Trust for his effots to preserve a Chantilly battlefield.
The trust is the largest nonprofit battlefield preservation organization in the U.S., and since 1987 has helped save more than 30,000 acres of battlefield land in 20 states.
In 1986, Wenzel of Vienna saw construction going up along Va. 50 near what today is known as the Fair Lakes area.
“I thought to myself ‘They can’t possibly be developing Fairfax County’s only significant Civil War battlefield, can they?’ But they were,” he said.
According to Wenzel, the Battle of Chantilly — or Ox Hill as it was called by Confederates — occurred Sept. 1, 1862, when Confederate Gen. Stonewall Jackson's corps of the Army of Northern Virginia tried to cut off the Union Army of Virginia and was attacked by two Union divisions. During the battle, both Union division commanders — Maj. Gen. Philip Kearny and Maj. Gen. Isaac I. Stevens — were killed, but the Union attack halted Jackson's advance, ending the Second Manassas campaign.
In total, about 1,500 soldiers were killed and wounded during the battle, which took place on about 500 acres near the intersection of Va. 50 and Interstate 66.
Two monuments — one for Kearny and one for Stevens —were erected in 1915, commemorating the battle near where they fell.
“Back in the late 1980s, the county wanted to move those monuments to another location and allow townhomes to be built on the actual battlefield where the generals fell,” Wenzel said.
Wenzel said that was something he was not about to let happen.
He, along with Bud Hall and the late Brian Pohanka, founded the Chantilly Battlefield Association. The group’s work took 22 years to halt the movement of the monuments, and culminated in the creation of a 5 acre public park that now encompasses the monument site.
The Ox Hill Battlefield Park, 4134 West Ox Road, Fairfax, was dedicated in 2008 and is maintained by the Fairfax County Park Authority.
“The Chantilly Battlefield Association is widely thought to be the first Civil War battlefield preservation organization of the modern era,” said Civil War Trust spokesman Jim Campi. "Ed Wenzel is one of the true trailblazers of the historic preservation movement. His struggle to save the Chantilly battlefield, inspired thousands to protect America's hallowed battlegrounds. Without Ed, there would be no national Civil War Trust."
During a banquet staged during the trust’s 2012 annual Conference in Richmond earlier this month, Civil War Trust President James Lighthizer recognized Wenzel and Hall for their efforts.
“Edward Wenzel was one of the original voices advocating on behalf of the Chantilly Battlefield, the destruction of which ultimately led to the creation of the first national battlefield preservation group. His work led to the first national uproar over a battlefield’s destruction. He was also a driving force in the Save the Battlefield Coalition, which fought against a proposed mall at Manassas in 1988, and a founding board member of the Association for the Preservation of Civil War Sites,” Lighthizer said.
“I was there in the Chantilly battlefield fight in the beginning,” Hall said. “But it was Ed that kept it all together for decades until the park was finally established. He deserves the praise for that.”
Wenzel remains humble about his accomplishment and the recent Civil War Trust honor, instead contemplating on what more could have been done.
“First of all I wasn’t alone in this. Several key players like Bud, Brian and Annie Snyder helped to make the Ox Hill park happen,” he said. “Secondly, perhaps if more people had known about the bloody Ox Hill battle in the 1970s and ’80s, if the schools had taught Civil War history, or even local history, and if children and their parents had been aware of the monuments and the events of 1862, then perhaps more of the battlefield could have been saved.
“Perhaps Monument Drive wouldn’t have been constructed through the heart of the battlefield,” he added. “It’s only through education and study that we can preserve our heritage. When heritage clashes with development interests, it’s our duty and responsibility as citizens to take whatever reasonable steps are necessary to protect the common heritage from unnecessary ‘by right’ destruction. County planners, supervisors and historians must be cognizant of the county’s history and heritage and use their good offices to protect and keep it. These places, these touchstones of our past, make local communities unique, and they give us pride in the community, and a sense of place.”
Within the local Civil War preservation community, many say Wenzel’s Civil War Trust honor was well-deserved.
“If there is anyone who has done more for Civil War preservation in this area than Ed, I don’t know who it is,” said Don Hakenson, Civil War author, historian and curator of Centreville’s Stuart-Mosby Civil War Cavalry Museum.