Ox Hill/Chantilly Battlefield Proponents Angry
About Lack Of Funding
By Deborah Fitts
FAIRFAX, Va. - Supporters of Ox Hill (Chantilly) Battlefield
Park are incensed that wealthy Fairfax County has only small
change in its pockets when it comes to restoring the county's
only preserved battlefield. "They're spending money like
there's no tomorrow on all this other stuff," said Ed Wenzel,
referring to the county's recent multi-million-dollar open-space
buying spree. "This park has been on hold since 1987. Give
us a break."
Wenzel, the leading authority on Ox Hill and a Civil War preservationist
who played a principal role in the successful 1988 struggle
to save part of the Manassas battlefield, is fed up with the
Fairfax County Park Authority.
Plans to restore and interpret the little 5-acre plot that is
all that remains of the Ox Hill battlefield have been delayed
for years. And now it seems that the Authority will provide
only $50,000 for the work - less than half the amount set aside
several years ago and probably far short of what is needed,
Wenzel and Civil War historian and preservationist Brian Pohanka,
co-founders of the Chantilly Battlefield Association, rallied
a group of supporters to the park in early August and rapped
the Park Authority for dodging its responsibilities.
A letter drafted by Wenzel cited 45 years of efforts to protect
the battlefield, whose focal point is a small fenced plot with
stone monuments erected in 1915 to the two Union generals who
died there - Philip Kearny and Isaac Stevens.
"At first it was buck passing, finger pointing, and bureaucratic
shuffling as developers besieged the battlefield," Wenzel
wrote. Now, he said, it is the Park Authority's failure to fund
"We think it is most unfair and unjustified to shortchange
the long-delayed Ox Hill Battlefield Park to pay for new parks
that weren't even on the radar screen a few short years ago."
Other signatories to the letter included John McAnaw, president
of the Bull Run Civil War Round Table; history professor Joseph
Harsh of George Mason University; and top officials from local
historical societies, the VFW, and American Legion.
Wenzel and Pohanka were recently appointed two of the six trustees
who own the 50-by-100-foot monument plot, replacing two who
had died since the last appointments, in 1961. Also named were
Kearny authority William Styple and Barbara Dempsey, both of
New Jersey. Dempsey is the widow of a former trustee.
In 1987, as part of its major development project on the battlefield,
Centennial Development Corp. proffered 2.4 acres adjoining the
monument plot, plus $110,000 "for use in construction of
amenities and improvements to the historic park to commemorate
the battle of Ox Hill."
In 1994, however, the Board of Supervisors used the money towards
the $688,000 that was needed to purchase - out of the jaws of
development - 2.5 acres abutting the tiny park, doubling its
size to today's 5 acres.
Wenzel stressed that battlefield supporters were "most
thankful and appreciative" that the county had purchased
the extra land, and fully supported using the $110,000 at the
But he said his understanding was that the money would be recovered
at a later date for completing the park, which in Wenzel's 1998
conceptual plan includes an access drive, parking area and interpretive
shelter. His proposal also calls for clear-cutting the overgrown
remnant of a 30-acre cornfield that figured prominently in the
battle, and installing a 500-foot snake fence along a historic
But now the Park Authority is suggesting that most of the $110,000
may be gone for good. It has allocated $50,000 for "master
planning," scheduled to get under way next spring. At the
same time, in the last two years the county has spent $32.5
million to buy new park land, expanding their holdings by 5000
Michael Ryerson, support services manager for the Park Authority,
said the fate of the $110,000 was "being reviewed"
by the staff. But he said that figure in any case represents
"half what we need, at a minimum." And he said that
no matter how much the improvements cost, the Park Authority
is "committed to preserving and developing the property
The Park Authority board can allocate whatever amount they choose
for Ox Hill, Ryerson explained. He admitted to being "surprised
that we haven't moved ahead" with the project. But he said
the board simply is focusing on other priorities. One priority
is major land acquisition, with open space rapidly vanishing
in Fairfax. The other is building new athletic fields, due to
extreme pressure from youth soccer, lacrosse and other interests.
"When you go into these [Park Authority] meetings and see
250 people arrive for youth athletics, you're only seeing the
tip of the iceberg," he said. "A thousand more people
While he cautioned that Wenzel and Pohanka should want to work
in a constructive "partnership" with the Authority,
he suggested that their publicity campaign may also be successful:
stories in the press and letters from battlefield supporters
"will cause decision-makers to see what we can do,"
Standing in the shade of trees that partly screen the park from
the hundreds of townhouses, high-rise office buildings, shopping
centers and four- and six-lane highways that surround Ox Hill,
Pohanka said it was "rather ironic that here is one of
the wealthiest counties in the nation, and it's almost as if
they begrudge every nickel spent on a place like this - a place
that's important not only to the county but the nation. "Let's
show some respect. People poured out their blood here. They've
already destroyed 90 percent of the battle-field. Let's treat
this little piece with dignity and honor."
Wenzel recently oversaw installation of two new Virginia historical
highway markers detailing the plot's Civil War history, including
the battle of Ox Hill Sept. 1, 1862. The vicious fight culminated
in the early darkness of an evening made additionally memorable
in soldiers' recollections by a terrific thunderstorm.
Gen. Stevens was killed when he seized the flag of the 79th
New York Highlanders after five color-bearers had fallen and
led the men up a slope to where Confederates under Stonewall
Jackson were waiting behind the snake fence. Gen. Kearny was
killed later when, reconnoitering nearby on horseback in the
dusky cornfield, he stumbled upon a Confederate force.
Pohanka called Wenzel "a hero" and "a great American"
for his relentless fight to save Ox Hill.
"If it wasn't for Ed Wenzel, where we're standing right
now would be just one more office building or shopping mall,"
Pohanka said. "What more powerfully heart-wrenching and
inspirational thing can there be than to think of General Stevens,
just over 5 feet tall, coming over this ground with the stars
and stripes in his hands, knowingly and willingly going to his
death? People should care about that."
Pohanka said those wishing to voice support for Ox Hill may
contact Katherine Hanley, Chairman, Board of Supervisors, 12000
Government Center Parkway, Fairfax, Va., 22035.