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The city of Fairfax is located close to the geographic center of Fairfax County, at 38°51′9″N 77°18′15″W (38.852612, −77.304377). According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 6.3 square miles (16.3 km2), of which all but 0.04 square miles (0.1 km2) is land.
While the city is the county seat, a small portion of the county comprising the courthouse complex, the jail and a small area nearby is itself an exclave of the county within the city. Fairfax County’s Government Center is west of the City of Fairfax.
The city derives its name from Thomas Fairfax, 6th Lord Fairfax of Cameron, who was awarded 5,000,000 acres (20,000 km2) of land in northern Virginia by King Charles. The area that the city now encompasses was settled in the early 18th century by farmers from Virginia’s Tidewater region. The town of “Providence” was established on the site by an act of the state legislature in 1805.
The scene of the first land battle of the Civil War, the Battle of Fairfax Court House took place here on June 1, 1861, after a Union scouting party clashed with the local militia with neither side gaining advantage. A second battle took place here two years later on June 27, 1863, where Union troops were defeated. This battle delayed the movements of Confederate cavalry chief Jeb Stuart with disastrous consequences for Lee at Gettysburg a few days later.