The old Monocacy Cemetery rises on a bluff in the tiny Montgomery County town of Beallsville, its aged tombstones revealing little of the generations save names and dates of birth and death. A modest chapel at one end sits vacant with its cobwebs, its tattered flags and its memories.
Nearby, a stone tablet stands vigil over the cemetery and chapel. Inscribed on it are 32 names once honored and now forgotten.
The names are Chiswell, White and Pyles, Wootton, Butler and Hays, Veirs, Dade and Dickerson. More than a century ago, after the guns of Fort Sumter signaled the start of the deadliest and most divisive war this country has ever known, these men had to choose sides.
Their state, Maryland, did not secede from the Union, but they did. Crossing the Potomac to the Confederacy, they became a small but not insignificant segment of the 20,00 Free Staters who fourght for the South in the Civil War.
Most of them joined what became known as "Chiswell's Exile Band," which fought with a Virginia cavalry regiment. Many were wounded and at least one died before they returned home dishonored by their national government but celebrated by their families, friends and neighbors.
For years, their service was a badge of honor in their country, and their families dominated its politics and commerce. They were, as one relatively recent arrival who has studied such things, says, "The Abc''s of Montgomery County," an alphabetical roll call of Montgomery movers and shakers.
And then, gradually, as the county changed, memories of the past ebbed and so did their power. Today, scores of descedants remain in the area, but only a few like Charles Elgin revere their Southern roots.
"If the Potomac River had bent in the opposite direction, we'd be in Loudoun County and I might feel more at home," says Elgin, the mayor of Poolesville and a descendant of Confederates Thomas Henry White and John Elgin. His wife, Dorothy, is the granddaughter of Michael Thomas Pyles. He is secretary-treasuer of the cemetery. She maintains the burial records.
Statistaically part of a metropolitan area known for its transcience, descendants of Chiswell and his band live today where their ancestors have lived for centuries. In some cases, three generations live side by side or within blocks of each other, inhabiting old homes and new town houses and commuting to jobs their agricultural ancestors never envisioned.
And the memory of their forebears' deeds is all but lost.
The first settlers came to the area around Poolesville in the 1700s from lower Maryland, bringing with them their slaves and their southern way of life. !y 1860, nearly a third of Montgomery County's population was composed of slaves, and western end, known as Medley's [election] District.
Downcounty suburbs were decades from development. Rockville, the county seat then as now, was a hub of activity far removed from Washington. Poolesville, with a population of 350 that would stay the same for a century, rivaled Rockville as a regional center. Surrounding it were satellite settlements: Dawsonville, Beallsville, Barnesville, Edward's Ferry, Conrad's Ferry, Dickerson.
It was Aug. 13, 1862, when some 40 men of Medly -- mostly young sons of slave-owning landholders -- openly cast their lot with the Southj, swimming the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal and fording the Potomac to fight for the Confederacy. Led by Capt. George W. Chiswell, they formed the nucleus of Company B of the 35th Virginia Calvery under Col. Elijah Veirs White, who had moved from Montgomery to Loudoun before the war.
"We have whipped them in every fight," Chiswell wrote home in 1863. "Truly they will find at this time that Richmond is a hard road to travel."
Instead, the war went against them, and they returned home in defeat, their salves freed by Maryland's 1864 constitution, their farms sustaining further losses from scavenging Union troops.
Some gave up and moved West, but to other Confederate veterans the postwar period wa one of opportunity. With the C&O Canal and the B&O Railroad nearby, Poolesville seemed idealy positioned to prosper: Col. "Lige" White and Dr. Edward Wootton, his battalion surgeon, owned warehouses and mills along the canal. Wootton also entered politics and served in the state legislature. tSo did Lt. Edward J. Chiswell, the captain's nephew. One of his six sons would become a county commissioner.
Richard P. Hays, one of the veterans, was instrumental in the movement to erect a monument and to create the Col. E. V. White Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, which cermoniously unvield the Monocacy tablet in November 1911. They sang "Marse Robert Is Asleep," donated money to the Confederate Women's Home in Baltimore and built the new chapel at Monocacy, to replace the one destroyed by Union troops.
They were still living in the past, of course, but it was a past only two generations distant and within the memory of many. Two world wars, the automobile, the Depression and the growth of the suburbs would shape a world they never knew, a world in which their allegiances would appear almost quaint if not downright outrageous.
Change came soon enough. Hays died in 1912, and seven old veterans escorted his casket, draped with the Stars and Bars, to its final resting place in Monocacy Cemetery. By the end of the '20s, only two veterans survived. With their passing -- the last in 9141 -- The Lost Cause, for many, had lost its luster.
"Some of the families cared, but never in pf the families cared, but never in public," said Maj. E. R. Luhn (U.S. Army retired), a descendant of E. V. White, whose family moved from Poolesville to Rockville in 1941 when he was 13. "It was almost as if they didn't want to be embarrassed or criticized for continuing to fight the war. They always worshipped at this alter in private. Except on June 3rd, that was the big thing with my grandmothers, mother and aunts."
Until recently, people came to the cemetery every June 3 to observe Jefferson Davis's birthday. The women brought box lunches and the children marched and the politicians spoke.
"You didn't dare celebrate the 31st of May," recalled Dorothy Butler Hopkins. "You know, my father [a son of Confederate Charles M. Butler] wouldn't wear a pair of blue jeans or anything else blue. No siree, you couldn't bring anything blue into his house. He wore khaki, gray, anything but blue." It was, however, a private protest.
With the coming of World War II, the E. V. White Chapter "honor roll" listed 42 direct and collateral descedants of Confederates serving, but the organizations's own roster was dwindling. By 1947, it numbered only 11.
"Being a few has drawn us closer to each other for it has been a struggle to keep life and interest when our members have been so widely scattered," noted Florence Pyles White, the wife of Dr. Lige White when, the week before Thanksgiving, the chapter closed for lack of leadership and membership. "Our chapel will represent our work for many years and it is a great asset to our beautiful cemetery."
The decline of The Lost Cause as a matter of interest and importance to the people of Poolesville and vicinity paralleled their dwindling clout in the county and even in their own community as enormous causes came to Montgomery.
Over the generations, blood lines had intertwined to such an extent that area news was family news. The families farmed the land until it could no longer sustain them and then some drifted away, finding jobs and homes in Washington and its growing, rootless suburbs. Others stayed and found employement where they could, sometimes working in the city while living in the country. Still others who moved returned to retire.
"We had everything our own way," said Dorothy Butler Hopkins, as she sat in the enclosed back porch of the family farm near White's Ferry. "Then everything opened up."
The improvement of county roads and the closing of the C&O Canal ended Poolesville's hopes of overtaking Rockville as the region's commercial hub. Then the Depression contributed to the break-up and sale of the large family farms and accelerated a migration from the country to the city in search of work.
Edward Lee (Uncle Ned) Chiswell, a son of the late Lt. Edward Chiswell, lost his job at the Poolesville bank when it wnet bust in 1930. "Just about everyone got wiped out locally," recalls Charles Elgin, the 1931 Poolesville High School senior class president who went to New York for schooling and work.
"I wanted so bad to go to Cornell University to take up interior decorating, but my father didn't have the money," said Dorothy Hopkins. "I always felt cheated in a way."
Along with many contemporaries, she went to Washington. Several attended Strayer's secretarial school. She went to business and beauty school and worked at a beauty shop at 49th Street and Massachusetts Avenue NW. There she met her husband, who worked at a nearby gas station.
Her father, meanwhile, had lost his Poolesville dairy farm; there are houses there now. Bankrupt, he managed to acquire another in White's Ferry, under his brother's name and there Dorothy Hopkins has lived since 1937.
Others were less fortunate, Joseph Gorman Butler lost his farm in a sheriff's sale. "It was kind of rought going," said his son, Gorman Lee (named after Gen. Robert E. Lee) Butler. Without a family farm to inherit, he became a Montgomery County policeman, living for a while in Rockville, then moving back.
The White family farm on Westerly Road went to a Belgian baron in 1940. The farm of Capt. George Chiswell remained in the family until 1963, when grandosn Carroll Chiswell sold it. "The last time we made hay, he had only a 12-year-old to help him," lhis wife, Mary Chiswell, said. "You couldn't get help for love or money."
After World War II, Northerners with liberal ideas who had come to Washington to forge the New Deal moved to the suburbs, changing the philosophical climate and the political cast of the county. For a while, at mid-century, the change was barely discernible around Poolesville. The "local" fire department was in Rockville, the movie in Frederick.
In 1959, the entire population of 298 persons had posed in the town's main street for an aerial picture to illustrate a National Geographic Magazine article on the upcoming census. The 1970 census showed only a small increase, to 349. By 1980, however, the figure had risen sharply to 3,400 as new homes rose on streets with old family names such as Wooton Avenue and Chiswell Road.
Resistance to growth in the 1960s had given way to a new expansionist philosophy among the older families who saw it as progress and as a way to finance new water and sewer facilities decreed by distant bureaucraticies. Politically, however, the influx was costly and for a few years they lost control of their local government to newcomers who were antigrowth.
Many of the new arrivals, however, were as transient as the old families are rooted. Working for the government or companies that line the I-270 corridor, they turned over at the rate of 100 households a year. Thus, with the election Charles Elgin as mayor in 1978, old Poolesville returned to power.
Current plans call for 6,450 residents in Poolesville by 1997. For now, however, it is still feels like country, and the new developments on its fringes seem incongruous. On a clear day there is a majestic view of the Blue Ridge across the Potomac and of nearby Sugarloaf Mountain on the Maryland side. And still, although the farms were sold and the jobs went elsewhere and some sons and daughters moved, many remain, or return.
T. Gordon Darby, a grandson of Confederate Lt. Edward Chiswell, returned after a long career with the Silver Spring post office, to a rambler overlooking the Blue Ridge. "So many of our friends, city people, go to Florida or move away to retire. We put it in reverse," he said. "We had land here. Where else would you want to go?"
For a while, Charles Elgin's son went to Pennsylvania, to work for IBM, but he too, returned, still in his 30s, to work for the county fire department and live a newly built home next to his parents. The Elgins' daughter, meanwhile, lives in one of the new town houses across town.
"I really never thought about going anywhere else," said Mary Butler Neal, 39, the mayor's secretary. Her daughter, Cathleen, has just graduated from Poolesville High. One of Mary Neal's sisters lives in Beallsville; three live in Poolesville twon houses, as does her brother George 25, a landscaping foreman who commutes to Potomac. "He's working with the earth. Ou can't afford to farm these days," Mary Neal said, "so he took the next best thing."
Dorothy Butler Hopkins recently took two grandchildren who live next door, to the Monocacy Cemetery to show them the monument to their Confederate ancestors. They said, "Grandma, did you know them?"
Such is the perspective of the young. And not so young:
William Chiswell Hilton, 43, a 1956 Poolesville High alumnus and a fourth generation Barnesville undertaker, has buried many people at Monocacy Cemetery, but news of his Confederate ancestry came as a surprise. Never thought about it, he says. The memorial tablet with its family names --- his among them --- had somehow eluded him.
A tree toppling in the winter of 1974 shattered the old marble slab. The following year, the ladies auxiliary of the cemetery repflaced it with a new stone tablet. The only living member of the E.V. White Chapter of the United Daughers of the Conferderacy could not attend: Sarah Ellen Pyles, Dorothy Elgin's aunt, 101, lives at the Washington Home.
One recent balmy day, caretaker Tom Ahalt Jr. opened the door of the old chapel adjoining the tablet. Water-stained framed portraits of Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee, whom he misidentified as "Gen. Grant," head of the Nion forces, adorn the rear wall. "I guess Lee wouldn't like that," mused the caretaker. Tattered Stars and Bars and Stars and Stripes flank a wooden pulpit. The pews are linked by cobwebs.
Above it all lhangs a crecent-shaped sign that says, "Lest We Forget."
But forgotten they are, these Montgomery men on the tablet. Buried in the records of the E.V. White Chapter, however, is an epitaph for the names inscribed on the Monocacy memorial. It goes:
Bugler, sound boots and saddles
They answer not? Let them rest
Their warfare over, they are sleeping
And perhaps 'tis for the best .