AN ARTICLE IN THE JULY 29 WEEKLY ABOUT EFFORTS TO COME UP WITH A PLAN TO IDENTIFY ALL CIVIL WAR SITES IN FAIRFAX COUNTY INCLUDED INCORRECT INFORMATION ABOUT GRAVES IN A CEMETERY NEAR FAIR OAKS MALL. THE CEMETERY INCLUDES MEMORIALS TO TWO UNION GENERALS, WHO WERE BURIED IN THEIR HOME STATES. (Published 08/05/1999)
Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Katherine K. Hanley (D) asked her staff this week to come up with a plan to identify all Civil War sites in the county as a further step in assessing calls to restrict development around them.
The Civil War Trust, an Arlington-based battlefield preservation group, is prodding the county to inventory its wartime sites before development claims many of them. Hanley said Monday that "given our growth . . . I think we need to have a strategy in place in the next five years to preserve these historic places."
Leaders of the Trust are urging Hanley and her colleagues on the 10-member board to fund a study that would list all Civil War "resources" in the county--from the sites of pivotal fighting and lesser-known skirmishes, to battle trenches and as-yet-undiscovered burial grounds.
The group estimates the study would cost the county $10,000 to $15,000, which Hanley said "might be entirely doable."
The preservationists are careful not to impugn the motives of developers or politicians who have pushed the building spree, sometimes at the expense of a historical site.
"I think the county's intentions are good, but there is just a lot of ignorance about what we have in the way of history here," said Elliot Gruber, executive vice president of the Trust. "What the board doesn't always know is where those Civil War resources are, and what lands need to be protected. So you sometimes just have people building on, or right next to, Civil War sites. . . . It's like a slap in the face."
The battlefield at Chantilly, located around Fair Oaks Mall, is a lightning rod for preservationists.
For Gruber, the area is nothing less than sacred ground, now desecrated. "The history there. . . .," he said wistfully, his voice trailing off.
At Chantilly, in 1862, after the Confederate victory at the Second Battle of Manassas, Gen. Robert E. Lee tried to annihilate what some historians have characterized as the tired, dispirited Union Army in Virginia.
Lee ordered Gen. Stonewall Jackson to engage the Union forces. Fierce fighting ensued in the woods of Chantilly, around an area that later would become the shopping mall. About 500 Confederate soldiers were killed or injured in the unsuccessful attempt to drive the Union troops out of the state; Union casualties were almost twice that number.
Gruber said a 1993 congressional study lists the battle, known as Ox Hill, among the 384 most important Civil War engagements.
All that remains of the battlefield today, Gruber said, is a small park near the mall, which includes a cemetery with the graves of two Union generals. "We don't want to see another war resource lost like that without an inventory," he said. "But we're on the verge of that happening now."
That is Gruber's way of alluding to other county-approved development projects that he says will destroy more "irreplaceable" sites. One of the most prominent--a stretch of distinctive, L-shaped trenches dug as a defensive measure by Confederate soldiers--sits near the intersection of Braddock Road and Route 28 in Centreville, where a developer is building 126 town houses on 14 acres.
Gruber said that project demonstrates the toothless nature of county policy toward trying to protect historic sites. "The county required the developer to conduct an archaeological survey of the area," he said, "but the requirement was meaningless because the developer had the right to begin construction regardless of the report's results."
The developer, Dallas-based Centex Homes, said Fairfax could have ordered it to conduct further studies, but didn't. "As it is, we're protecting the trenches on the eastern part of the property," said Michael Hummel, director of land development for Centex. Hummel said the company also will have an archaeologist monitoring the site.
That's not enough for Gruber, who wants a more comprehensive study that would include deeper digging. "There may be burial grounds around there that we don't know of. . . . There could be important artifacts. If we don't find out and they build, then it's gone forever."
Hanley said she is "cautiously optimistic" that, if the staff recommends it, the board will fund a study and inventory. "People recognize we don't have a lot of time left," she said.