Poolesville resident proposes Civil War memorial
Poolesville native seeks to build a monument to community's heritage
Politics may trump historical accuracy in a Civil War memorial proposed for Poolesville.
The town's commissioners want to honor both Union and Confederate soldiers but historical accounts show that the town squarely supported and fought for the South.
With the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War approaching in April, Poolesville resident Matthew Heimbach suggested his town celebrate its important place in the war.
As the son of a high school history teacher, Heimbach, 19, visited all the Civil War battlefields and developed a deep interest in the period. Although no major battles were fought in Poolesville, he learned that the town figured prominently in the war.
Poolesville was important for the protection of Washington, D.C., because of its strategic location on the banks of the Potomac River, at a ferry crossing.
"It seems like this was a very pro-secessionist town," Heimbach said.
The town approved a resolution in 1859 pledging its allegiance to the South, said historian Raymond L. Hoewing of Dickerson.
Many Poolesville men crossed the river to join the Confederate Army, he said.
The New York Times reported on Sept. 12, 1862, that rebel sympathizers in Poolesville offered aid and information to the South, according to the documentary, "Life in a War Zone," produced by Heritage Montgomery.
Poolesville was then the second-largest city in Montgomery County, with a population of 350.
President Abraham Lincoln could not afford to lose Maryland, so 15,000 Union troops camped in Poolesville throughout the war, according to the documentary. Soldiers found the town to be inhospitable.
"This town is one of the most treasonable towns in the south," a Union soldier wrote in his diary in 1861, according to the documentary. "There is not one unionist in all of Poolesville."
Union soldier Elijah Hunt Rhodes wrote in his diary that he entered the town on July 15, 1864, to learn a soldier from New York had been tried, convicted and immediately hung in Poolesville for spying for the rebels, Hoewing wrote in his booklet, "Poolesville: 250 Years: Indians to Internet." The booklet, published in 2002, is available from Crafts-a-Plenty in Poolesville and online.
Civil War skirmishes were fought in surrounding communities, but not in Poolesville, Hoewing said.
"People disagree if there ever was any soldier killed in Poolesville there may have been one or two," he said.
Preserving slavery was not the only reason for the war, Heimbach said. Southern states resented federal intervention, "like a tea party conservative against big government," he said.
"I never really understood the Confederate perspective, so I started reading more to get a more balanced perspective."
He began also looking into his own background and found his grandmother's great-grandfather from North Carolina fought for the South in the 22nd North Carolina Infantry. Based on that information and his own understanding of the war, Heimbach was inducted into the Sons of the Confederacy in January. He is a member of the 8th Virginia Infantry.
Heimbach would like the town to erect a statue honoring Poolesville's Civil War soldiers by the flags in front of Town Hall. If money is scarce, he would make it a plaque.
"I want to make it about the history and the men who served," Heimbach said.
Historical accuracy would only remember the Confederate side in Poolesville, but commissioners have asked him to also represent Union soldiers, too.
Paul "Eddie" Kuhlman II, president of the Poolesville Town Commission, said he likes the idea of commemorating Poolesville's place in Civil War history, but commissioners think both sides should be remembered.
"Both sides were here, and in politics you try to find a happy medium," he said.
Heimbach will be responsible for raising money for the memorial. He has no idea how much money he will need, but is encouraged by the enthusiastic response from everyone he talks to.
"If I could get it dedicated by April 2015, I'd be happy," he said.
"It's not something I favor [the town] funding, not in these times," Kuhlman said.