Battle of Chantilly - Conflict & Date:
The Battle of Chantilly was fought September 1, 1862, during the American Civil War (1861-1865).
Armies & Commanders
Battle of Chantilly - Background:
Defeated at the Second Battle of Manassas, Major General John Pope's Army of Virginia retreated east and re-concentrated around Centreville, VA. Weary from the fighting, General Robert E. Lee did not immediately pursue the retreating Federals. This pause allowed Pope to be reinforced by troops arriving from Major General George B. McClellan's failed Peninsula Campaign. Despite possessing fresh troops, Pope's nerve was failing and he decided to continue falling back towards the Washington defenses. This movement was soon checked by Union General-in-Chief Henry Halleck who ordered him to attack Lee.
As a result of pressure from Halleck, Pope issued orders for an advance against Lee's position at Manassas on August 31. That same day, Lee directed Major General Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson to take his Left Wing, Army of Northern Virginia in a flanking march to the northeast with the goal of circling Pope's army and cutting off its line of retreat by capturing the vital crossroads of Jermantown, VA. Moving out, Jackson's men marched up Gum Springs Road before turning east on Little River Turnpike and camping for the night at Pleasant Valley. For much of the night, Pope was unaware that his flank was in peril (Map).
Battle of Chantilly - The Union Response:
During the night, Pope learned that Major General J.E.B. Stuart's Confederate cavalry had shelled the Jermantown crossroads. While this report was initially dismissed a subsequent one detailing a large mass of infantry on the turnpike elicited a response. Realizing the danger, Pope cancelled the attack on Lee and began shifting men to ensure that his line of retreat to Washington was protected. Among these moves was ordering Major General Joseph Hooker to reinforce Jermantown. On the road since 7:00 AM, Jackson halted at Ox Hill, near Chantilly, upon learning of Hooker's presence.
Still unsure of Jackson's intentions, Pope dispatched Brigadier General Isaac Stevens' division (IX Corps) north to establish a defensive line across Little River Turnpike, approximately two miles west of Jermantown. On the road by 1:00 PM, it was soon followed by Major General Jesse Reno's division (IX Corps). Around 4:00 PM, Jackson was alerted to the approach of Union forces from the south. To counter this, he ordered Major General A.P. Hill to take two brigades to investigate. Holding his men in trees along the northern edge of the Reid Farm, he pushed skirmishers across the field to the south.
Battle of Chantilly - Battle is Joined:
Arriving south of the farm, Stevens also sent skirmishers forward driving back the Confederates. As Stevens' division arrived on the scene, Jackson began deploying additional troops to the east. Forming his division to attack, Stevens' was soon joined by Reno who brought up Colonel Edward Ferrero's brigade. Ill, Reno assigned Ferrero's men to cover the Union right but left tactical control of the fighting to Stevens, who sent an aide to seek additional men. As Stevens prepared to advance, what had been a steady rain increased to a heavy downpour damaging cartridges on both sides.
Pushing across open terrain and a cornfield, the Union troops found the going hard as the rain turned the ground into mud. Engaging Confederate forces, Stevens' sought to press his attack. Taking the colors of the 79th New York State Infantry, he led his men forward into the woods. Mounting a fence, he was struck in the head and killed. Surging into the woods, the Union troops began a furious fight with the enemy. With Stevens' death, command devolved to Colonel Benjamin Christ. After nearly an hour of fighting, the Union forces began to run low on ammunition.
With two regiments shattered, Christ ordered his men to fall back across the fields. As they did so, Union reinforcements began to reach the field. Stevens' aide had encountered Major General Philip Kearny who began rushing his division to the scene. Arriving around 5:15 PM with Brigadier General David Birney's brigade, Kearny began preparing for an assault on the Confederate position. Consulting with Reno, he received assurances that the remnants of Stevens' division would support the attack. Taking advantage of the lull in the fighting, Jackson adjusted his lines to meet the threat and moved fresh troops forward.
Advancing, Birney quickly realized that his right was not being supported. While he requested Colonel Orlando Poe's brigade to come up to support him, Kearny began seeking immediate aid. Racing across the field, he ordered the 21st Massachusetts from Ferrero's brigade to Birney's right. Annoyed by the regiment's slow advance, Kearny rode forward to scout the cornfield himself. In doing so, he ventured too close to the enemy lines and was killed. After Kearny's death, the fighting continued until 6:30 PM with little result. With darkness setting in and little usable ammunition, both sides broke off the action.
Aftermath of the Battle of Chantilly:
Having failed in his goal to cut off Pope's army, Jackson began falling back from Ox Hill around 11:00 that night leaving the Union forces in control of the field. Union troops departed around 2:30 AM on September 2 with orders to rejoin the retreat towards Washington. In the fighting at Chantilly, Union forces suffered around 1,300 casualties, including both Stevens and Kearny, while Confederate losses numbered around 800. The Battle of Chantilly effectively concluded the Northern Virginia Campaign. With Pope no longer a threat, Lee turned west to begin his invasion of Maryland which would culminate over two weeks later at the Battle of Antietam.