This year’s Labor Day weekend marks the 150-year anniversaries of two important Civil War events in Fairfax County.
Fairfax County’s only major battle — The Battle of Chantilly or Ox Hill as it was called by Confederates — took place on about 500 acres near the intersection of U.S. 50 and Interstate 66 on Sept. 1, 1862.
In total, about 1,500 soldiers were killed and wounded during the battle.
According to Civil War historian Ed Wenzel, 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. The Second Battle of Bull Run, or Second Manassas, was fought from Aug. 28 to 30, 1862, in nearby Manassas.
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. “But we didn’t let them.”
On Saturday, a day-long commemoration celebration of the Battle of Chantilly will be staged at Ox Hill Battlefield Park, 4134 West Ox Road, Fairfax.
Events will begin at 10 a.m. with a presentation of 16 state flags and speeches by local officials. At 1 p.m., the Federal City Brass Band will play period music followed by re-enactors firing rifles and cannons.
At 4 p.m., a laying of wreaths at the monuments of Kearny and Stevens will be followed by more speeches.
Throughout the day, costumed Civil War re-enactors, some on horseback, will be camped at the park. There will be souvenir crafts for children, according to the Fairfax County Park Authority.
Free parking will be provided at the Fairfax County Government Center, with shuttles provided to the park from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. For more information, go to www.fairfaxcivilwar.com.
“Fairfax County is what it is today because of the influence of its rich history,” said Fairfax Supervisor Pat Herrity (R-Springfield). “These events give us a greater understanding of the county’s role in defining America, as well as history’s role in shaping the county. Hopefully the sesquicentennial events will ignite a renewed interest in our county’s historic heritage.“
On Sunday, a candlelight memorial service for those killed during the he Second Battle of Bull Run will be staged at the cemetery of St. Mary of Sorrows Catholic Church in Fairfax Station, where some of them were buried.
The church — at the intersection of Fairfax Station Road and Va. 123 — became the first Catholic church in Fairfax County when it was officially dedicated in 1860.
Less than a year after the church's dedication, the Civil War came to Northern Virginia.
Given the church's location on the main road from Fairfax Courthouse to the depot of the Orange and Alexandria Railroad — now Fairfax Station — the area, with St. Mary's as an identifying point, quickly became a strategic objective for both Union and Confederate armies vying to overtake the area's railroads.
At the outbreak of the war, both Confederate and Union forces were positioned in the area surrounding St. Mary's.
The Union Army controlled the railroad out to Burke, while the Confederate Army controlled the Manassas area. The land in between, where St. Mary's stood, would become the scene of numerous violent skirmishes.
During the Second Battle of Manassas in late August 1862, the newly-created Union Army of Virginia was met by Confederate forces for a three-day battle that resulted in nearly 25,000 killed and wounded. Many of the wounded Union soldiers from that battle were taken to St. Mary's, which was being used as a Union field hospital.
"Among those caring for the wounded soldiers there was a recording clerk from the U.S. Patent Office in Washington named Clara Barton," said St. Mary's parishioner, historian and Clara Barton impersonator Liz Byrne. "She was from Massachusetts and had heard that many soldiers from her area had been brought there. She wanted to help."
Byrne — an authority on Barton — said Barton didn’t have formal training but had nursed her older brother for two years after a bad fall incapacitated him when she was 11 years old.
She nursed the wounded Union soldiers for the three days and nights of the battle as heavy rains fell and doctors operated in the only dry place available: the church.
According to Byrne, although 20,000 Confederate soldiers began the push toward Fairfax Station, Barton, along with other volunteers and doctors, remained until the last of the 3,000 or so wounded Union soldiers were evacuated. She watched from the windows of the last train headed north as the Fairfax Station depot was set on fire.
Today, controversy still remains as to whether the depot was burned by Confederate or Union troops.
The candlelight commemoration for those soldiers, called “Remembering their sacrifice,” will take place at 8 p.m. at the church cemetery, 5612 Ox Road, Fairfax Station.
The event is sponsored by the Father Corby Division of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, St. Mary of Sorrows and the Fairfax County Cemetery Preservation Association, Inc.
For more information about the event, go to www.honorfairfaxcemetaries.org.