Portrait of Philip Kearny

Union leadership suffered significant losses when Major General Philip Kearny (pictured here) and Major General Isaac Stevens died during the Battle of Chantilly. [Wikimedia Commons]

Battle of Chantilly

September 1, 1862

Also known as the Battle of Ox Hill, the Battle of Chantilly was fought on September 1, 1862 in Fairfax County, Virginia. The engagement was the last battle of Robert E. Lee's Northern Virginia Campaign.

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Prelude to the Battle

In early 1862, Union leaders attempted to bring a quick end to the American Civil War by capturing the Confederate capital at Richmond, Virginia. On March 17, Major General George B. McClellan began moving the 50,000 men of the Army of the Potomac toward Richmond during the Peninsula Campaign. By June, McClellan reached the outskirts of the Confederate capital but ultimately retreated after losing a series of encounters with General Robert E. Lee and his Army of Northern Virginia. These engagements became collectively known as the Seven Days Battles.

Lee Pursues Pope

Dissatisfied with McClellan’s performance, President Lincoln appointed Major General John Pope to command the newly created Army of Virginia. Sensing that McClellan now posed little threat to Richmond, Confederate General Robert E. Lee, took the offensive, before Pope’s army could unite with McClellan’s retreating forces. On July 13, Lee sent 12,000 Rebel troops under the command of Major General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, to secure Confederate railroad links with the Shenandoah Valley near Gordonsville, Virginia. Later that month, he redeployed 12,000 more men to support Jackson. In early August, with McClellan’s army in full retreat, Lee dispatched Major General James Longstreet and 30,000 additional troops to support Jackson, and Lee personally took command of the offensive against Pope.

On Thursday, August 28, 1862, Lee’s forces engaged Pope’s army near Manassas Junction, Virginia. By Saturday, Pope’s forces were in full retreat after Confederate soldiers soundly defeated them at the Second Battle of Bull Run. As the Federals fell back to Centreville on their way to the safety of the defensive fortifications surrounding Washington, D.C., Lee ordered Jackson to turn Pope’s right flank and to get between the Union army and the capital. Jackson’s immediate goal was to occupy Jermantown and to block the Warrenton Turnpike leading to Washington.

On August 31, Jackson set out toward the northeast, traveling as far as Pleasant Valley before camping for the night. On the next day, Jackson continued his trek. Realizing that his right flank might be exposed, Pope ordered Major General Joseph Hooker to establish a defensive position to secure Jermantown. With Hooker in his path, Jackson stopped his march four miles northwest of his goal to await reinforcements.

Battle Begins with Skirmishing

Meanwhile, Pope ordered Brigadier-General Isaac Stevens to establish a second defensive line between Jackson and Hooker. When Jackson received reports of Stevens’s movement, he dispatched Major General A. P. Hill’s division to determine the strength of the Union force assembling in front of him. As the two sides skirmished during a steady drizzle around four o’clock, Jackson began deploying his soldiers at the edge of a forest overlooking a cornfield on the Reid Farm.

Rebels Mortally Wound General Stevens

At 4:30 p.m., Stevens sent a request to the rear for reinforcements and then ordered his division forward to engage the Rebels at the edge of the woods. Almost simultaneously, the rain intensified into a severe thunderstorm that soaked the combatants’ gunpowder, rendering many firearms useless. When the Union attack began to stall at approximately 5 o’clock, Stevens moved to the front to urge his troops forward, where he received a shot to the head, killing him instantly. After Stevens’s death, Colonel Benjamin Christ assumed command of the faltering attack and began to withdraw slowly across the cornfield.

Federals Withdraw After Rebels Mortally Wound General Kearny

As Christ’s soldiers retreated, reinforcements from Major General Philip Kearny’s corps began arriving on the field at approximately 5:15. While Kearny prepared to renew the assault, Jackson solidified his lines at the edge of the woods. At 5:30, Kearny’s men moved forward and engaged Jackson’s right flank. When Kearny discovered that his right flank was exposed because Christ’s men had not advanced as planned, he rode off looking for more troops. After finally enlisting the aid of the 21st Massachusetts, Kearny rode forward to reconnoiter the enemy lines. Between 6 o’clock and 6:30, he rode into the midst of a group of Confederate soldiers who ordered him to halt. Kearny swung his horse around instead and attempted to escape. As the Union general dashed away, a Rebel soldier fired a minie ball into Kearny’s back, killing him almost instantly. After Kearny’s death, the Federals withdrew to the opposite side of the cornfield, and the fighting ended.

Aftermath of the Battle

The Battle of Chantilly was a tactical draw. The Union Army suffered approximately 1,300 casualties compared to 800 casualties for the Confederacy. Strategically, however, the engagement was a Union victory. Having failed in his attempt to beat Pope’s forces to Jermantown, Jackson began withdrawing from the vicinity at approximately 11 p.m. The Bluecoats maintained their position until 2:30 a.m. when Pope continued his retreat toward Washington.

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Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Article Title Battle of Chantilly
  • Coverage September 1, 1862
  • Author
  • Keywords Battle of Chantilly
  • Website Name American History Central
  • Access Date July 27, 2021
  • Publisher R.Squared Communications, LLC
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update March 8, 2021
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