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Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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The Battle of Chantilly

The Irish 6th Louisiana fights at the Battle of Chantilly (or Ox Hill, the Confederate name), which takes place on September 1, 1862, in Fairfax County, Virginia, as the concluding battle of the northern Virginia campaign of the American Civil War. Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson‘s corps of the Army of Northern Virginia attempts to cut off the line of retreat of the Union Army of Virginia following the Second Battle of Bull Run but is attacked by two Union divisions. During the ensuing battle, Union division commanders Isaac Stevens and Philip Kearny are both killed, but the Union attack halts Jackson’s advance.

On the morning of September 1, 1862 Union Maj. Gen. John Pope orders Maj. Gen. Edwin Vose Sumner of the II Corps, Army of the Potomac, to send a brigade north to reconnoiter. The army’s cavalry is too exhausted for the mission. But at the same time, he continues his movement in the direction of Washington, D.C., sending Maj. Gen. Irvin McDowell‘s III Corps to Germantown (on the western border of modern-day Fairfax, Virginia), where it can protect the important intersection of Warrenton Pike and Little River Turnpike that the army needs for the retreat. He also sends two brigades from Maj. Gen. Jesse L. Reno‘s IX Corps, under the command of Brig. Gen. Isaac Stevens, to block Jackson. Maj. Gen. Philip Kearny’s division from the III Corps follows later that afternoon.

Jackson resumes his march to the south, but his troops are tired and hungry and make poor progress as the rain continues. They march only three miles and occupy Ox Hill, southeast of Chantilly Plantation, and halt, while Jackson himself takes a nap. All during the morning, Confederate cavalry skirmish with Union infantry and cavalry. At about 3:00 PM, Stevens’s division arrives at Ox Hill. Despite being outnumbered, Stevens chooses to attack across a grassy field against Brig. Gen. Alexander Lawton‘s division in the Confederate center. The Union attack is initially successful, routing the brigade of Colonel Henry Strong and driving in the flank of Captain William Brown, with Brown killed during the fighting. The Union division is driven back following a counterattack by Brig. Gen. Jubal Early‘s brigade. Stevens is killed during this attack at about 5:00 PM by a shot through his temple.

A severe thunderstorm erupts about this time, resulting in limited visibility and an increased dependence on the bayonet, as the rain soaks the ammunition of the infantry and makes it useless. Kearny arrives about this time with his division to find Stevens’s units disorganized. Perceiving a gap in the line he deploys Brig. Gen. David B. Birney‘s brigade on Stevens’s left, ordering it to attack across the field. Birney manages to maneuver close to the Confederate line but his attack stalls in hand-to-hand combat with Maj. Gen. A.P. Hill‘s division. Kearny mistakenly rides into the Confederate lines during the battle and is killed. As Kearny’s other two brigades arrive on the field, Birney uses the reinforcements as a rear guard as he withdraws the remainder of the Union force to the southern side of the farm fields, ending the battle.

That night, Maj. Gen. James Longstreet arrives to relieve Jackson’s troops and to renew the battle the following morning. The lines are so close that some soldiers accidentally stumble into the camps of the opposing army. The Union army withdraws to Germantown and Fairfax Court House that night, followed over the next few days by retreating to the defenses of Washington D.C. The Confederate cavalry attempts a pursuit but fails to cause significant damage to the Union army.

The fighting is tactically inconclusive. Although Jackson’s turning movement is foiled and he is unable to block the Union retreat or destroy Pope’s army, National Park Service historians count Chantilly as a strategic Confederate victory because it neutralizes any threat from Pope’s army and clears the way for Lee to begin his Maryland campaign. The Confederates claim a tactical victory as well because they hold the field after the battle. Two Union generals are killed, while one Confederate brigade commander is killed. Pope, recognizing the attack as an indication of continued danger to his army, continues his retreat to the fortifications around Washington, D.C. Lee begins the Maryland Campaign, which culminates in the Battle of Antietam, after Pope retreats from Virginia. The Army of the Potomac, under Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan, absorbs the forces of Pope’s Army of Virginia, which is disbanded as a separate army.

The site of the battle, once rural farmland, is now surrounded by suburban development in Fairfax County. A 4.8 acre (19,000 m²) memorial park, the Ox Hill Battlefield Park, is located off of State Route 608 (West Ox Road) and lies adjacent to the Fairfax Towne Center shopping area, and includes most of the Gen. Isaac Stevens portion of the battle, about 1.5% of the total ground. The park is under the jurisdiction of the Fairfax County Park Authority. In January 2005, the Authority approves a General Management Plan and Conceptual Development Plan that sets forth a detailed history and future management framework for the site.

A small yard located within the nearby Fairfax Towne Center has been preserved to mark the area crossed by Confederate troops to get to the Ox Hill battlefield.

(Pictured: Color lithograph “General Kearney’s gallant charge,” published by John Smith, 804 Market St., Philadelphia. From the Library of Congress.)


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The Second Battle of Rappahannock Station

The Irish 6th Louisiana fights at the Second Battle of Rappahannock Station on November 7, 1863, near the village of Rappahannock Station (now Remington, Virginia), on the Orange and Alexandria Railroad. The battle is between Confederate forces under Maj. Gen. Jubal Early and Union forces under Maj. Gen. John Sedgwick as part of the Bristoe campaign of the American Civil War. The battle results in a victory for the Union.

Following the Battle of Gettysburg in July 1863, the Union and Confederate armies drift south and for three months spar with one another on the rolling plains of northern Virginia. In late October, General Robert E. Lee withdraws his Confederate army behind the Rappahannock River, a line he hopes to maintain throughout the winter. A single pontoon bridge at the town of Rappahannock Station is the only connection Lee retains with the northern bank of the river.

The Union Army of the Potomac‘s commander, Maj. Gen. George G. Meade, divides his forces just as Lee expects. He orders Maj. Gen. John Sedgwick to attack the Confederate position at Rappahannock Station while Maj. Gen. William H. French forces a crossing five miles downstream at Kelly’s Ford. Once both Sedgwick and French are safely across the river, the reunited army is to proceed to Brandy Station.

The operation goes according to plan. Shortly after noon on November 7, French drives back Confederate defenders at Kelly’s Ford and crosses the river. As he does so, Sedgwick advances toward Rappahannock Station. Lee learns of these developments sometime after noon and immediately puts his troops in motion to meet the enemy. His plan is to resist Sedgwick with a small force at Rappahannock Station while attacking French at Kelly’s Ford with the larger part of his army. The success of the plan depends on his ability to maintain the Rappahannock Station bridgehead until French is defeated.

Sedgwick first engages the Confederates at 3:00 PM when Maj. Gen. Albion P. Howe‘s division of the VI Corps drives in Confederate skirmishers and seizes a range of high ground three-quarters of a mile from the river. Howe places Union batteries on these hills that pound the enemy earthworks with a “rapid and vigorous” fire. Confederate guns across the river return the fire, but with little effect.

Maj. Gen. Jubal Early’s division occupies the bridgehead defenses that day. Early posts Brig. Gen. Harry T. Hays‘s Louisiana brigade and Captain Charles A. Green’s four gun Louisiana Guard Artillery in the works and at 4:30 PM reinforces them with three North Carolina regiments led by Colonel Archibald C. Godwin. The addition of Godwin’s troops increases the number of Confederate defenders at the bridgehead to nearly 2,000.

Sedgwick continues shelling the Confederates throughout the late afternoon, but otherwise he shows no disposition to attack. As the day draws to a close, Lee becomes convinced that the movement against the bridgehead is merely a feint to cover French’s crossing farther downstream. He is mistaken. At dusk the shelling stops, and Sedgwick’s infantry rushes suddenly upon the works. Col. Peter Ellmaker’s brigade advances adjacent to the railroad, precedes by skirmishers of the 6th Maine Volunteer Infantry. At the command “Forward, double-quick!” they surge over the Confederate works and engage Hays’s men in hand-to-hand combat. Without assistance, the 6th Maine breaches the Confederate line and plants its flags on the parapet of the easternmost redoubt. Moments later the 5th Wisconsin Infantry Regiment swarms over the walls of the western redoubt, likewise wresting it from Confederate control.

On the right, Union forces achieve comparable success. Just minutes after Ellmaker’s brigade penetrates Hays’s line, Col. Emory Upton‘s brigade overruns Godwin’s position. Upton reforms his lines inside the Confederate works and sends a portion of the 121st New York Volunteer Infantry to seize the pontoon bridge, while the rest of his command wheels right to attack the confused Confederate horde now massed at the lower end of the bridgehead.

Confederate resistance dissolves as hundreds of soldiers throw down their arms and surrender. Others seek to gain the opposite shore by swimming the icy river or by running the gauntlet of Union rifle fire at the bridge. Confederate troops south of the Rappahannock look on hopelessly as Union soldiers herd their comrades to the rear as prisoners of war.

In all, 1,670 Confederates are killed, wounded, or captured in the brief struggle, more than eighty percent of those engaged. Union casualty figures, by contrast, are small: 419 in all. The battle is as humiliating for the South as it is glorious for the North. Two of the Confederacy’s finest brigades, sheltered behind entrenchments and well supported by artillery, are routed and captured by an enemy force of equal size.

The Civil War Trust and its partners have acquired and preserved 856 acres of the battlefield where the First and Second Battles of Rappahannock Station were fought. The battleground for both battles is located along the Rappahannock River at Remington, VA and features visible earthworks as well as bridge and mill ruins. The earthworks at Remington are no longer there and more than 75% of the battlefield has been developed over.