Thousands of cars pass by the intersection of Chain Bridge and Courthouse roads every day, but local historians have found even longtime residents are surprised when they hear the history behind Flint Hill Cemetery and the adjacent church.
Because the cemetery has 26 Civil War veterans interred, it will receive a Civil War Trails marker. The Flint Hill Cemetery Association will unveil the marker at the site, 2845 Chain Bridge Road, in an illumination commemoration ceremony 6 p.m. today.
The cemetery had its first burials around 1852. Early into the Civil War, the Confederates built a fort in that area in anticipation of the first Union attack, which ended up being the First Battle of Manassas in July 1861.
Control of the Oakton area, then known as Flint Hill, changed hands a few times in the first year. The Union, again defeated in the Second Battle of Manassas, retreated north, and Gen. Robert E. Lee and his troops chased them, engaging in the Battle of Chantilly — or Battle of Ox Hill, as the Confederates called it — on Sept. 1.
"Lee wanted to take his army further into enemy territory, so they headed north and ended up in Antietam," said Jim Lewis Jr., a local historian and author of the historical marker, who noted the Battle of Antietam proved to be the bloodiest single-day battle in American history leaving about 23,000 dead.
The Confederates' decision to move north allowed the Union to seize control of the Oakton-Vienna area, but it did not go uncontested. Starting around December 1862, Col. John Singleton Mosby, also known as the "Gray Ghost," and his crew that operated with 20 to 80 men using guerilla tactics, would target active Union supporters and either capture or kill them.
"Mosby's goal was to keep Union soldiers from the front, and he estimated he kept about 30,000 from going to war," said Lewis, who explained Mosby's crew also took horses and rehabilitated them to go into the field for the Confederacy, and ransacked the trains that went along the W&OD Trail.
After the war, Flint Hill Cemetery continued to grow and now hosts more than 2,300 over about 3 acres. Though no nationally known figures are buried at the cemetery, many prominent local civilians do have plots: the Gunnell, Freeman, Staat and Hendricks families; Mary Holland Bell; various ex-mayors of Vienna; and more.
Beyond the Civil War veterans, a total of 165 war vets are buried in the cemetery.
In 1904, Oakton Church of the Brethren opened its doors where the Confederate fort used to stand — an unexpected choice for a pacifist church.
Like Quakers and Mennonites, the Church of the Brethren promotes peace and has historically stood in opposition to war.
"You can imagine the discussions that went down," Lewis said. "They decided to take something that had been, if you will, bad in the past and make it good for the future."
The church's current pastor, Chris Bowman, will speak about its history at tonight's unveiling ceremony.
The commemoration ceremony will also feature live period music from "Old Time Machine, a presentation of the Colors and a few surprises.
"It's going to be really interesting and classy," Lewis said. "I'm excited about this because it's going to be cool and different and something you just have to be there to see."
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