Monday, May 12, 2014

Books on the battle of Ox Hill

In my quest to fully understand and write about the role of the Branch-Lane brigade, I recently finished reading the only two books on the battle of Ox Hill: Welker's The Tempest at Ox Hill (2002) and Taylor's He Hath Loosed the Fateful Lightning (2003). Both of these books were released after I had finished writing The Thirty-seventh North Carolina Troops, and I have not done anything with the topic since the late 1990s.

The battle of Ox Hill, also known as the battle of Chantilly, was a small action fought on the heels of the Federal route at Second Manassas. Stonewall Jackson was attempting to interpose his divisions between the retreating Federals and Washington, D. C. The attacks of two Federal divisions, under Stevens and Kearny, along with a violent thunderstorm, and with darkness fast approaching, stymied Jackson's plan. While Stevens and Kearny were killed, and the Federals abandoned the field after the close of the battle, Jackson's attempts to cut off the retreat were also foiled.

My initial assessment of the two books is this: The Tempest at Ox Hill is better written, while He Hath Loosed the Fateful Lightning contained more material. However, I would not consider either book as presenting a good overview of the battle.

Welker's books is a great book when it comes to the Federal side of the battle. The role of Stevens and Kearny, two of the best Union generals in the Virginia theater, along with the pre-war lives, is deeply explored. The information regarding the various Union regiments in the battle, like the 79th New York Highlands, is given ample treatment. But there is not a corresponding treatment of Confederate generals and brigades/regiments. While I did not find a lot of material while working on my book on the 37th North Carolina, I did find enough to present their thoughts on the battle.

Taylor's book is a little better balanced. His great contribution comes in his discussion on the role of other events connected to the battle, like the arrival of Clara Barton at Fairfax Station in an attempt to administer aid to the Federal wounded. Taylor also goes on and discusses the loss of the Ox Hill/Chantilly battlefield to shopping centers and subdivisions, and the subsequent birth of the Civil War Preservation Trust and the successful battlefield preservation movement.

Taylor's tome, while shorter, has more illustrations, and both books have adequate maps.

There is a third "book" on the battle of Ox Hill - Charles V. Mauro's The Battle of Chantilly (Ox Hill: A Monumental Storm), released in 2002. I do not own this book, and at 92 pages, I doubt it can add a lot to the discussion. Also at price tag of $80.00 (almost a dollar per page), I doubt I will be adding it to my shelves.

James H. Lane, then colonel of the 28th North Carolina Troops, wrote that "This engagement is regarded by the brigade as one of our severest." It would be frutiful to know what other Confederates thought of the battle as well.

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