Coordinators of an elaborate ceremony honoring fallen American soldiers at the Ox Hill Battlefield wanted to send out a message larger than the number of people who actually attended the event.
The Father William Corby Division Ancient Order of Hibernians and the Fairfax County Park Authority presented the 10th annual program Monday, May 29, at the battlefield site off of West Ox Road and Monument Drive in the Fair Oaks area. The ceremony included prayer, a bagpiper, a presentation of colors, a wreath ceremony, a few vocal and bagpipe musical renditions and educational speeches about the history of the battlefield and the soldiers who died there.
“This year marks the 140 anniversary of Memorial Day,” said Elmer May, the master of ceremonies at the event, and a retired U.S. Army colonel and Civil War historian. “More than 270 soldiers died here at Ox Hill.”
Less than 20 people attended the event, making guests account for less than half of the crowd.
“I commend you who have distinguished yourselves by showing up today,” said May. “I only hope next year you bring some more of your friends.”
THE SMALL CROWD reflected the history of the place. Compared to other Civil War battles, the death toll at Ox Hill was relatively low, said Charles Poland, history professor at Northern Virginia Community College and a Civil War historian. But the numbers don't reflect the significance of the events there, he said.
"If you want to be callous, you could compare the numbers of the dead and say this was an insignificant battle," said Poland. "This was an important battle. It robbed the Union of two very important generals."
Fought on Sept. 1, 1862, the Battle of Ox Hill (Chantilly) followed on the heals of the Union defeat of Second Manassas. During the battle, Union Gens. Kearny and Stevens were both killed.
Poland went on to talk about the history of the site, and he expressed his distaste for the large amount of development that has taken over the areas surrounding the battlefield.
"As the agricultural world has been replaced by the urban world, history often gets overlooked," said Poland. "We have congested traffic and people hurrying, not knowing what happened here, and even worse, not caring. It’s important to reflect on the more than one million Americans who gave their lives."
Elizabeth Crowell, cultural resource manager of the Fairfax County Park Authority, said the park authority has many plans for the site, including the construction of monuments honoring divisions of both the Confederate Army and the Union Army who fought there. Future Memorial Day remembrances there, she said, will have more visual appeal within the park boundaries.
"Within 2007 we’re hoping to get moving with the design and interpretation of the park,” said Crowell.
The program also paid tribute to veterans with a wreath ceremony and the singing of "God Bless America."
“I think the military have to be remembered, any way you do it,” said Bob Hickey, organizer of the event and a member of the Ancient Order of Hibernians.
“It was nice to see,” said Jim Cavanaugh, spectator.