Civil War Sesquicentennial Event Held at Ox Hill Battlefield Park

It would perhaps be a historic understatement to say the commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Ox Hill got started with a bang. The body-shaking explosion of firing cannon was a crowd favorite on a humid day of activities at Ox Hill Battlefield Park last Saturday.

Stribling’s Battery led artillery demonstrations.

Officials said Fairfax County’s signature event of the Civil War Sesquicentennial drew more than 800 people, including Board of Supervisors Chairman Sharon Bulova, who read the board’s proclamation declaring September 1 as “Battle of Ox Hill Day in Fairfax County.” In comments made during a presentation of flags from the 16 states represented at the battle, Bulova noted that the Ox Hill clash took place during a fierce thunderstorm that she compared to the recent derecho that inundated the county.

Sully District Supervisor Michael Frey, Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Sharon Bulova, and Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity proclaim September 1 as Battle of Ox Hill Day in Fairfax County.

The day included a Civil War music concert by the Federal City Brass Band under the leadership of Principal Musician Jari Villanueva. The band, introduced by Park Authority Director John Dargle, played rotary valve instruments that were popular at the time of the Civil War. Villanueva also played Taps at the conclusion of the day’s events after John McAnaw, the past president of the Bull Run Civil War Round Table, and Ed Wenzel, trustee of the Kearny and Stevens Monuments at Ox Hill, laid a wreath at the park’s memorials for the two Union generals who died fighting for their beliefs at Ox Hill.

John McAnaw, the past president of the Bull Run Civil War Round Table, and Ed Wenzel, trustee of the Kearny and Stevens Monuments at Ox Hill, salute during the wreath laying service.

One of the day’s speakers called Ox Hill “one of the most significant Civil War sites in the country.” David Duncan, the director of Marketing and Development for the Civil War Trust, the nation’s largest non-profit organization devoted to preserving Civil War Battlefields, cited two reasons for his claim: the number of casualties that occurred at Ox Hill, and the fact that “this is where the modern Civil War battlefield preservation movement was started.” He credited Wenzel and McAnaw for leading the preservation of Ox Hill, adding that “This is a tremendous legacy.” Referring to the memory of those who fought in the Fairfax County clash, Duncan told Wenzel and McAnaw, “You not only saved the ground. You saved the battle.”

Duncan encouraged his audience to support Ox Hill and similar parks, saying: “We are the last generation that will have the opportunity to save these places. We have the obligation to save all we can.” Duncan added that people will come to Ox Hill long after the passing of the current generation and say, “Thank goodness somebody cared enough to save a place like this.”

Park Authority Board Chairman Bill Bouie said “Saving a piece of the original battleground was the right thing to do.” He called the site “sacred ground” and “a place to experience living history.”

Chairman of the Park Authority Board Bill Bouie saving a piece of the Ox Hill Battlefield was the right thing to do.

Sully District Supervisor Michael Frey, who has a long history with Ox Hill events, said, “The Friends of Ox Hill Battlefield Park worked very hard to preserve the site.”  He called it “a phenomenal place for memories to honor the soldiers who fell,” and he thanked the preservationists for their efforts.

Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity noted that Ox Hill is part of a county “rich in Civil War history.”

Sgt. Matthew Devor of Stribling’s Battery asked spectators to cover their ears to lower the impact of the pounding sound from the artillery demonstration. The firing was followed after each presentation throughout the day by a sudden “ahhh” from the crowd as spectators jumped in surprise that the cannon’s firing was as loud as Devor had warned it would be. That was followed by the rolling, thunderous echo of the explosion, the sting of smoke in nostrils and then, without fail, a round of applause.

Sgt. Matthew Devor of Stribling’s Battery warns the crowd to cover their ears.

Paula Elsey, the chair of the Ox Hill 150th Signature Event Planning Committee, said, “Our goal was to, from the first planning meeting in 2010, not only commemorate the lives lost, but to design a day-long program that would bring the day’s events to the 21st century people of Fairfax County.” To that end, the program successfully appealed to children, casual observers, history buffs and history scholars. The commemoration included musket firing demonstrations, a kids’ craft tent, opportunities for children to take part in drills, a Civil War re-enactors camp and medicine display, artifacts, and more than a dozen booths hosted by history organizations.

Children played old-fashioned games and made straw soldiers.

Work at Ox Hill Battlefield Park will continue in coming years. The next planned steps are an additional interpretive panel at the park’s kiosk presenting information about soldiers who fought at Ox Hill and then a pair of memorials to those soldiers. Elsey said, “That’s part of carrying the memory forward.”

Winston Churchill once said of battlefields, “No one can understand what happened merely through reading books and studying maps. You must see the ground; you must cover the distances in person.” Your understanding of Ox Hill and the Civil War will get a boost with a tour of the park at the intersection of Monument Drive and West Ox Road.  Visit the Park Authority website and learn about Ox Hill Battlefield.  Don’t miss the opportunity to enjoy the past through the site’s audio tour of the park, an informative guide.

Written by Dave Ochs, manager, Stewardship Communications

Jari Villanueva of the Federal City Brass Band plays taps during the wreath laying ceremony.

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About Fairfax County Park Authority

About Fairfax County Park Authority HISTORY: On December 6, 1950, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors created the Fairfax County Park Authority. The Park Authority was authorized to make decisions concerning land acquisition, park development and operations in Fairfax County, Virginia. To date, 13 park bond referenda have been approved between 1959 and 2016. Today, the Park Authority has 427 parks on more than 23,000 acres of land. We offer 325 miles of trails, our most popular amenity. FACILITIES: The Park system is the primary public mechanism in Fairfax County for the preservation of environmentally sensitive land and resources, areas of historic significance and the provision of recreational facilities and services including: • Nine indoor RECenters with swimming pools, fitness rooms, gyms and class spaces. Cub Run features an indoor water park and on-site naturalist • Eight golf courses from par-3 to championship level, four driving ranges including the new state-of-the-art heated, covered range at Burke Lake Golf Center • Five nature and visitor centers. Also nine Off-Leash Dog Activity areas • Three lakefront parks including Lake Fairfax, Lake Accotink and Burke Lake, with campgrounds at Burke Lake and Lake Fairfax. The Water Mine Family Swimmin’ Hole at Lake Fairfax, Our Special Harbor Sprayground at Lee as well as an indoor water park at Cub Run RECenter • Clemyjontri Park, a fully accessible playground in Great Falls featuring two acres of family friendly fun and a carousel, as well as Chessie’s Big Backyard and a carousel at the Family Recreation Area at Lee District Park • An ice skating rink at Mount Vernon RECenter and the Skate Park in Wakefield Park adjacent to Audrey Moore RECenter • Kidwell Farm, a working farm of the 1930s-era at Frying Pan Farm Park in Herndon, now with historic carousel • Eight distinctive historic properties available for rent • A working grist mill at Colvin Run in Great Falls and a restored 18th century home at Sully Historic Site in Chantilly • A horticulture center at Green Spring Gardens in Annandale • Natural and cultural resources protected by the Natural Resource Management Plan and Cultural Resource Plans, plus an Invasive Management Area program that targets alien plants and utilizes volunteers in restoring native vegetation throughout our community • Picnic shelters, tennis courts, miniature golf courses, disc golf courses, off-leash dog parks, amphitheaters, a marina, kayaking/canoeing center • Provides 263 athletic fields, including 39 synthetic turf fields, and manages athletic field maintenance services at 417 school athletic fields. PARK AUTHORITY BOARD: A 12-member citizen board, appointed by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, sets policies and priorities for the Fairfax County Park Authority. Visit for Fairfax County Government's Comment Policy.

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