Fourteen ladies of the South, most of them wearing flower print blouses and one carrying a faded portrait of Gen. Robert E. Lee, walked briskly into a Sunday school classroom in Arlington yesterday morning to partake of "The Ritual."

Thirteen of them sat on steel gray folding chairs and turned their attention to the great-granddaughter of a Tennessee cavalry field surgeon.

"Daughters of the Confederacy," intoned Virginia Jones, leader of the ladies, "this day we are gathered together in the sight of God to strengthen the bonds that unite in a common cause . . . ."

And, after the ladies saluted the Confederate flag and pledged their "affection, reverence and undying remembrance," they got down to the business of ensuring that the Old South "where the cotton and the corn and the taters grow" will not soon be forgotten.

The United Daughters of the Confederacy, who have about 35,000 members and 900 chapters in 34 states and one in Paris, have been meeting in churches and homes since Sept. 10, 1894. Caroline Merriwether Goodlett of Nashville, Tenn., got together with some of her friends then to "preserve the true history of the Confederacy."

As anyone who spends time with the United Daughters soon will learn, a lesson in "the true history" begins with instruction that the proper name for the conflict that ran between 1861 and 1865, claiming more than 780,000 lives, is not the Civil War, but the War between the States.

Shannon Starke, treasurer of the Arlington United Daughters Chapter No. 149 and the great-granddaughter of a North Carolina infantryman, yesterday explained the distinction.

"Civil war is what's fought within a country among its own people. At the time this war broke out, we had seceded; we were a separate country," Starke insisted. She added she could understand the confusion because she's had trouble getting her explanation across to "the Yankee teachers" who instruct her children in Fairfax County.

At yesterday's monthly meeting of chapter No. 149, the ladies quickly dealt with the treasurer's report [sales of "Happy Home" lemon, vanilla and butter and rum flavoring were reported moderate] and heard that one United Daughter had had a "terrible time" with a typewriter ribbon in preparing a new set of chapter bylaws.

Then came the "program," chapter historian Elizabeth Snedden on the causes of the war.

Snedden, who can trace her ancestry back to a Confederate soldier -- as can all the Daughters -- trod lightly on the issue of slavery.

"There were those people who were getting rich by slave trading," Snedden said. But she added that most of the planters who used slaves "may have hated themselves for doing it."

According to "Important Facts That All United Daughters Of The Confederacy Should Know," the cause of the civil war was not slavery but the North's "disregard (for) the rights of the Southern States."

The ladies who met yesterday at Westover Baptist Church said that the war was fought over "states" rights," an issue that they say is still important.

Had the South won the war, they said states' rights would not be infringed upon by the federal government.

Speaking for herself, Shannon Starke of Springfield said that a Southern victory in the war would also have enabled her to have "a few servants around. I wouldn't have had dishpan hands."

But the United Daughters say the war is over 114 years ago and they are not bitter about what might have been. Instead, they use essay contests, the construction of public statues and political pressure to keep the good name of the South alive.

The United Daughters' two greatest successes, the ladies said yesterday, has been lobbying Congress to restore citizenship to Lee and Jefferson Davis the president of the confederacy.

Across the South, the United Daughters take credit for placing statues of Confederate soldiers that stand in many city squares.

The Arlington chapter, however, had a large rock (excavated in Metro subway construction) placed three years ago near Wilson Boulevard in Arlington to commemorate a Confederate outpost.

The spot, called Upton Hill, was closer to the District of Columbia (about three miles) than any rebel post, according to the ladies.