Ballad of Shenandoah

by Adrienne Foster Potter, based on a true story from the archives of the Virginia Historical Society

Copyright@Sept. 1970 by Adrienne Foster      All rights reserved

 May be copied for classroom use.

Click to read actual history

 

In a valley by the name of Shenandoah lived a woman and Betty was her name.

She had no love for fame or fortune and she married a man who felt the same.

They both loved the valley where their home was, and so he felt forced to go and fight

When the nation divided in a battle to see whether slavery was right.

 

Chorus:

Betty hated war and saw it's evil, but she still loved the people everywhere.

People were the same--Rebel folks or Yanks.  To every creed and color she was fair.

 

Every month she waited for his letters, but then one day the letter didn't come.

Every day the Union troops moved closer until the sound of cannons made her numb.

Then one day a servant ran and told her a soldier in a shed was down the lane.

He was badly wounded and his comrades had left him there to ease his dying pain.

 

Betty went to help with his injuries, not caring that his uniform was gray.

She wouldn't turn him in though he was armed, and claimed that he could shoot from where he lay.

She fed him every day.  As his wounds healed he told her all about his loving wife.

They shared their tales but as the nights grew cold, once more she feared the Union soldier's life.

 

At night the servants moved him to her home, but his condition grew from bad to worse.

Secretly she called upon her doctor, who came to help the soldier and his nurse.

He didn't waste his time to scold or judge, but said the need for medicine was great.

The rebels had no medicine to spare, but Betty knew the soldier couldn't wait.

 

So she rode on horseback to the Yankees.  They saw her but could not believe their eyes.

But when she showed a letter that he wrote, they gave her all the medical supplies.

Betty hurried home and nursed the soldier, and once more he began to gain his health,

But one day a neighbor saw the stranger, and so they knew they had to move with stealth.

 

So Betty and the man devised a plan, and were told by a farmer living near.

"The Yankees stole two of my best horses--I need them both to get my work done here."

"Take me back and trade me for your horses, but Betty must come too," the soldier said.

"The war will soon be over and we'll learn if her husband is in jail or if he's dead."

 

The farmer hid the soldier in the hay but when the three were half-way through the woods,

Three men with guns on horses blocked their path, and said, "Give us your money and your goods."

They pulled the farmer down, then reached for Betty, but suddenly a shot rang through the air,

Then two more shots and Betty turned and saw the soldier's gun, and hay was in his hair.

 

They reached the Yanks and with his bandaged hand, he saluted the flag he loved so well.

They found the farmers horses, then went north, to find the spot where Betty's husband fell.

First they went to Washington to research, and then they started searching prison camps.

They saw ragged lines and haggard faces, and living quarters dirty, cold, and damp.

 

Betty's heart went out to all the men there, as fear grew that the one she loved had died;

But one day a ragged soldier stumbled into her arms and even soldiers cried.

The couple loved the Yankee and his wife, and the four will stay best friends forever.

Treaties and agreements might end a war, but folks like will these bring this land together.

 

Chorus:

Betty hated war and saw it's evil, but she still loved the people everywhere.

People were the same--Rebel folks or Yanks.  To every creed and color she was fair.

 

The End

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HISTORICAL FACTS CONCERNING BETTIE METRE AND HENRY BEDELL, THE UNION SOLDIER WHOM SHE RESCUED:

1836 - Henry Bedell is born in Westfield, Vermont

1862 - Henry Bedell, a handsome 6'2" farmer, enlists as a corporal in the Union Army. He leaves behind his wife Emmeline and four children, including an adopted nephew.  He is soon made a sergeant.

1864 Henry Bedell is promoted to second lieutenant.

Sept. 13, 1864 - Lt. Bedell's Vermont Brigade encounters confederate troops led by Gen. Jubal Early.  A heavy battle ensues with extensive cannon fire and artillery.  Lt. Bedell  is shot in the leg and hand.  The blast pulverized the bones in his thigh.  Capt. Aldace Walker applies a tourniquet with a rope and rifle ramrod, which saved his life for the moment.  His leg is amputated later that day.  One finger is amputated and the other broken fingers are set.  Walker writes home, "The chances are against his living."  The Brigade moves 20 miles north to Harper's Ferry, but leaves Lt. Bedell behind under the care of squatters and two soldiers.  Bedell encourages the soldiers to leave when Gen. Sheridan's army moves into the area.  They are afraid of being executed by rebel forces.  Assuming his condition is too serious for survival they report Lt. Bedell as dead.

Days later, Bettie Metre's slave, Dick Runner, finds Lt. Bedell and informs Bettie, who goes to check on him.  She finds him feverish, in agonizing pain, and with terrible infections in his leg and hand.  He is unable to move and is lying in waste and filth on the floor, crying.  The sight of Bettie reminds him of his wife.  Convinced he will soon die he asks Bettie to write a letter to his wife.  First she brings her own physician, Dr. Osborne, a man who cares more for lives than uniforms.  The wounds are cleaned and the soldier is bathed.  Dick's wife, Ginny, stays and nurses him through the night.  Dr. Osborne tells Bettie that Lt. Bedell will die without medicine, but the Doctor is unwilling to use rebel supplies for an enemy soldier.  Bettie rides on horseback to Harper's Ferry, to the Union Army Camp to ask for medicine.  She shows them a blood-stained letter from Lt. Bedell, and is given the supplies.  She returns to Harper's Ferry numerous times for supplies, including liquor which she uses to bribe the squatters into keeping quiet about the enemy soldier in her care.

After ten days, four of Bettie's former slaves help move him to her home where she gives him her own bedroom and she sleeps with her niece and the slaves.  Much of their food has been plundered by the army and Bettie's mill is out of business during the war, but they share what little food they have with Lt. Bedell.  It is probable that Lt. Bedell promises to help Bettie find her husband in return for her kindness to him.

Nov. 1864 - Lt. Bedell is strong enough to return to his troops.  Neighbors are suspicious so Dick Runner converts a six-foot crockery crate for the Lieutenant's use and hides him in the back of a wagon.  Bettie, her nurse, and Lt. Bedell arrive at Harper's Ferry.  They then go to Washington to procure a release for Bettie's husband, who is in a prison camp.  Sec. of War Edwin Stanton is brought to tears by the tale of Bettie's compassion and writes, the "commanding officer will release any person the bearer may claim as her husband."  Bettie has received a letter from her husband from Ft. Delaware, a prison camp where almost half of the 7,700 confederate inmates died., but there is no record of him there.  They arrive at the prison camp and and review lines of men.  Finally, a tall emaciated man stumbles, weeping, into Bettie's arms.

They travel to Vermont with Henry Bedell where they stay after the war.  Later Henry and Emmeline have two more children and name them after Bettie and James Metre.  The Bedells later are house guests in the Virginia home of the Van Metres.  They remain friends for the rest of their lives.

Note: Unfortunately, Bettie was persecuted and shunned by her neighbors for aiding an enemy officer, but it is evident that Bettie was a Bible-reader, as were most of the people in her day. "Better love hath no man this, that he lay down his life for his friends..." and "...do unto others as you would have them do unto you."  Bettie knew that in the bible the word man included woman and that a friend meant anyone who needed her help.  She was just doing for Lt. Bedell what she hoped another woman would have done for her own husband.

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