The Woman Who Would Not Tell

The Woman Who Would Not Tell

Aunt Bettie is faced with a difficult decision. A wounded Union soldier is found hiding in a farmhouse near her home. She has to decide whether to help him or let him be captured. What will she choose to do?

Janice Keyser Lester "I never did hate the Yankees. All that hated was the war.……" That's how my great-aunt Bettie began her story. I heard it many times as a child, whenever my family visited Aunt Bettie in the old house in Berryville, Virginia. Aunt Bettie was almost 80 years old then. But I could picture her as she was in the story she told me ——barely 20, pretty, with bright blue eyes.

Bettie Van Metre had good reason to hate the Civil War. One of her brother was killed at Gettysburg, another taken prisoner. Then her young husband, James, a Confederate officer, was captured and sent to an unknown prison camp somewhere.

One hot day in late September Dick Runner, a former slave, came to Bettie with a strange report. He had been checking a farmhouse half a mile away from the Van Metre home, a farmhouse he thought was empty. But inside, he heard low groans. Following them to the attic, he found a wounded Union soldier, with a rifle at his side.

When Aunt Bettie told me about her first sight of the bearded man in the stained blue uniform, she always used the same words. "It was like walking into a nightmare: those awful bandages, that dreadful smell. That's what war is really like, child: no bugles and banners. Just pain and filth, futility and death."

To Bettie Van Metre this man was not an enemy but rather a suffering human being. She gave him water and tried to clean his terrible wounds. Then she went out into the cool air and leaned against the house, trying not to be sick as she thought of what she had seen —— that smashed right hand, that missing left leg.