July marks the 80th anniversary of Lee Chapter, Virginia Division, United Daughters of the Confederacy, the one surviving UDC chapter in Loudoun County. Once there were four.

Only two other chapters remain in the area -- the Black Horse chapter in Warrenton, which was founded in 1896 and is the fourth-oldest chapter in Virginia, and the Manassas chapter, which was organized in 1897.

Once there were nine others: 8th Virginia Regiment, at Hickory Grove, a hamlet midway between Haymarket and the Loudoun line, active from 1899 to about 1940; Groveton, at that village amid the 2nd Manassas battlefield, 1897-1943; Loudoun at Leesburg, 1897-1951; Middleburg, 1897-1952; Rappahannock in the small town of Washington, 1897-1916; Remington, 1897-1928 (renamed Bowen-Martin in 1915); Haymarket, 1899-1965; Blue Ridge at Hamilton, 1905-1961; and Welby Carter, Upperville, 1915 to about 1990.

Three former chapters leave architectural legacies: the Middleburg and Welby Carter obelisks, dating from the early 20th century, with unknown Confederate dead buried beneath and each enclosed by a circle of plain gravestones of known dead, at Sharon and Ivy Hill cemeteries.

Middleburg's Confederate Hall has stood, since 1972, at Hickory Tree Farm south of Middleburg, where it was moved by James and Alice Mills to save the hall from destruction. It had been in town since 1909, when it was brought from the Jamestown Tercentennial Exposition of 1907 for the chapter's headquarters. In 1948, the chapter could no longer care for the building and sold it for $2,488. Nearly all the proceeds went to keep up the Sharon Cemetery obelisk and site.

The 8th Virginia Regiment Confederate Hall, built in 1913, stands at Hickory Grove. It became Bull Run Pentecostal Church in the 1940s, and a few years ago was remodeled into a quaint home.

As with the national organization, founded in 1894, the same year as the first Virginia chapter, Albemarle in Charlottesville, the original purpose of the 12 Piedmont chapters was to honor the memory of the Confederacy and to help its needy veterans and their families.

Membership requirements then were the same as today. A woman had to be related to a Confederate veteran or someone in the civil service of the Confederacy, or the forebear had to have given material aid to the Southern cause.

When I mentioned this last clause to the three chapter presidents with whom I spoke recently, I added that many hundreds of descendants of slaves and free blacks thus would be eligible to join. They knew this and agreed. All said they would welcome a black "sister" -- as they sometimes refer to themselves -- but to their knowledge, no African American has ever applied for membership.

Through the early 1910s, nominees for membership had to have their applications signed by two Confederate veterans. Later that decade, as more of the old soldiers died, only one signature was required. The requirement that a veteran sign an application was done away with sometime in the 1920s.

Dorothy "Dot" Rickard of Lovettsville has been president of the Lee chapter for 25 years. She was born in 1924, the year the chapter was founded. To her credit, she has seen to it that the chapter's minutes and history, dating to 1924, have been preserved at Thomas Balch Library in Leesburg -- a policy that might be subscribed to by many organizations.

As to why 11 area chapters that existed during Rickard's youth have dwindled to three, Dixie Lee Gartrell, secretary of the now-defunct Middleburg UDC, wrote a perceptive note in 1948: "We find it very difficult to get new members, due possibly to the keen competition offered by other organizations whose interests lie in the future, while ours must of course lie in the past."

Since the Civil War centennial of the 1960s, however, the number of Virginia UDC chapters has remained the same, 84, and a new chapter will start up soon in McLean. The UDC has been shifting some of its focus to the present and future.

Rickard and Grace Shrader, president of the Black Horse chapter, and Suzanne Parker, president of the Manassas chapter, recently described how the primary goals of their chapters have changed over the years.

Dues from local chapters to the Virginia division of the UDC took care of the needy veterans and their widows and families. As late as 1945, the Virginia division was doling out pensions to 14 Confederate veterans and 651 daughters.

The main pursuits of the 12 northern Piedmont chapters during their early years were to identify and preserve the graves of Southern soldiers and sailors and to purchase and disseminate books and literature that dealt with the Civil War -- as long as they were from a Southern perspective.

Today, Rickard said, the books need not have a Southern slant, and many of the rare H.E. Howard series of Virginia regimental histories -- neutral in scope -- have been placed at Thomas Balch Library by the Lee chapter. The Black Horse and Manassas chapters also continue this tradition of donating Civil War-era books to libraries. Often, the name of a deceased UDC member is inscribed on the book's front flyleaf.

The preservation of veterans' gravesites has always been a priority, the three chapter heads emphasized. During the early 20th century and before, when there were no area parks or when municipalities did not care for town graveyards, it was UDC groups and a Southern women's group called the Ladies' Memorial Association that took care of the cemeteries.

With the demise of the Ladies' Memorial Association in the 1950s, the UDC groups took over the task. Parker, president of the Manassas chapter, told me that her group continues to maintain the one-acre Confederate Cemetery, which was founded in 1867 in Manassas. And scores of overgrown and nearly forgotten family graveyards in the Virginia Piedmont hold Confederate remains. The UDCs feel strongly that the grave of a veteran should be well kept.

Parker's chapter and Shrader's Black Horse chapter also continue the time-honored custom of celebrating May 30 as Confederate Memorial Day. In 1868, that day was named as a special day to honor Union soldiers' graves and then was adopted by some Southern states, including Virginia, to honor their dead.

Once a gala affair, often attended by dignitaries, Confederate Memorial Day is now subdued. At the Manassas Confederate Cemetery, Parker's chapter places small Confederate flags at each grave, a tradition also followed by ladies of the Black Horse chapter at the Warrenton Cemetery. They also lay flowers on the graves.

The iron Maltese crosses with a central "CSA" -- for Confederate States of America -- that mark many gravesites of Southern veterans are paid for by veterans' families and other individuals. UDC chapters order the crosses.

Until the late 1960s, public school children assisted in the May 30 ceremony in Manassas, Parker said. Shrader told me that at Warrenton Cemetery, a Fauquier County High School chamber choir -- black students among the singers -- performed and that a student played taps. Shrader recalled that was the norm through 1997. Then, "all of a sudden," she said, "it became politically incorrect to participate."

In May 1998, the ceremony site, at the base of a 25-foot obelisk that is topped with a lamenting maiden and inscribed with the words "Confederate Dead Six Hundred Defenders," took on a new look and meaning at the insistence of Elizabeth Carter "Bizz" Lineweaver, wife of former Warrenton mayor J. Willard Lineweaver and a UDC member and former chapter president.

Lineweaver told me recently that one morning in October 1996, a loose-leaf notebook, with laminated pages containing 520 names of Confederate dead buried at Warrenton, appeared on her doorstep. The list also included the date of death and the unit of each soldier. Robert E. Smith, an Illinois researcher searching for information on a Confederate ancestor, had come across the data during a 14-year search for his forebear's resting place.

Smith had given the notebook to the Warrenton Library, and a UDC member who thought the Lineweavers might be interested in the find placed it on their doorstep. Elizabeth Lineweaver immediately contacted a close friend, Warrenton landscape architect Meade Palmer. She realized that Smith's discovery was of titanic proportions and that the 520 names needed to be placed where they could be seen.

Most of the soldiers had died in the two Manassas battles, and their names were thought to have been lost after the 1863-64 winter, when Union soldiers, in need of firewood, took down hundreds of nearby graveside wooden crosses that had been inscribed by girls at the town's Fauquier Seminary.

To finance a memorial, which was designed by Palmer, Lineweaver raised $140,000 from individuals, several private organizations and UDC chapters. On the day of the monument's unveiling, May 24, 1998, the Black Horse chapter also published a book with the names and data. "The Memorial Monument to Name the Fallen," edited by Black Horse member Joanne Browning Warman, is still available from the chapter.

I was ready to tell Shrader that the serendipitous find would be a good subject for a student's essay, as each year the Virginia UDC awards monetary prizes for essays dealing with Civil War topics. But I found out that the three area chapters no longer send Virginia UDC essay suggestions to public school administrators.

Parker, who has retired from 34 years of teaching in Prince William County schools, told me she heard a school administrator noting the source of the contest and saying, "I'm not really sure that this is what we want to promote."

Upon hearing such comments, I think back to the early 1950s, when Carr P. Cook Jr., a black Middleburg contractor, became the first area African American to run for the Town Council. One of his strongest supporters in the staunchly segregated Virginia Piedmont was the Middleburg UDC chapter. Cook lost by two votes.

Less controversial are the benevolent concerns of the area's UDCs: donations to veterans hospitals; the purchases of land to save Brandy Station Battlefield and to add 143 acres to Manassas National Battlefield Park; donations to excavate and restore sections of 1607 Jamestown, approaching its 400th anniversary; and scholarships for needy and gifted college-bound students.

But an attack on the Confederate flag is another matter, and the UDC can count on Rickard for a reply.

In 1993, after learning that then-U.S. Sen. Carol Moseley Braun (D-Ill.) led the fight to remove the national UDC insignia (containing the Confederate flag) from the list of fewer than 10 emblems sanctioned by Senate recognition, Rickard wrote the African American senator. In part, Rickard's letter said: "We abhor the fact that slavery existed here in the United States as anyone else, but . . . we are an organization founded to memorialize and honor our Confederate ancestors, and from that cause we have been one of the most philanthropic organizations in the country."

Moseley Braun's long letter in response emphasized that "some of our ancestors fought on a different side" and that others "were held as human chattel under the flag of the Confederacy."

At that point, as Rickard read Moseley Braun's letter to me, she said, "And they were held as human chattel under the United States flag for a longer period of time."

Rickard's point did not hold with the majority of the Senate. It voted 75 to 25 to drop the UDC emblem from its revered list. The insignia is now trademarked.

Eugene Scheel is a Waterford historian and mapmaker.

Dorothy "Dot" Rickard is president of the Lee chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, one of the area's three remaining chapters.