Over the past few weeks, I’ve been knocking doors across western Fairfax, from West Ox Road to Westfields Boulevard.
My feeble efforts in the summer heat will be little remembered. However, the acreage I’m crossing was at the forefront of American history once. To review that era, let’s go back to the summer of 1862 …
On August 30, 1862, the Union and Confederate armies met at Second Manassas. The result was a Confederate victory which drove the Union Army back towards the town of Fairfax Courthouse. Immediately after the battle, General Lee saw an opportunity to crush that army.
Anchoring his main force at the tiny crossroads of Centreville, he dispatched Stonewall Jackson’s Corps on a flank march down a local turnpike (now Rte 50) towards the Courthouse.
Leaving their bivouac at Pleasant Valley, Jackson’s Corps pushed east, shuffling over the one-lane Sully Road — past today’s Pohanka Ford –and approaching the intersection with Warrenton Turnpike (now Rte 29).
Recognizing the impending danger, Union divisional commanders Phillip Kearny and Isaac Stevens sallied out from their fortifications at Germantown (now Jermantown) Road and confronted Jackson’s Virginians.
The two sides met in a confused scrimmage on July 2, 1862, a mile west of today’s Fair Oaks Mall. In a driving rainstorm, the Union troops halted Jackson’s Corps and pushed them back towards “Chantilly,” a local plantation which gave the battle its name. That action preserved the Union Army to fight another day.
The battle saw the death of both Stevens and Kearney, who rode to battle in front of their troops and were shot down by Southern infantry.
(Renowned Civil War historian Bruce Catton said that Kearney’s Michigan soldiers “wept unashamedly” when they heard of their leader’s death).
Lee himself ordered that the body of Kearney, a friend from the pre-war U.S. Army, be returned to the Union side “as a consolation to the family.”
The War moved on to Maryland and left Fairfax County behind, except for a few raids by Ranger Mosby. Today’s residents likely have little idea that major armies clashed in their future cul-de-sacs but 149 years ago. But maybe some folks will know now.