One Of The Most Popular Songs During The Civil War

Lorena was published in 1857, and it became one of the most popular songs of the Civil War. This song was a special favorite of the Confederates. Lorena has a beautiful melody and the lyrics are by Reverend H. D. L. Webster, but the actual origin of this song is uncertain. With the success of Lorena, many babies, towns, and at least one steamship, were named Lorena.

Following is a rendition of Lorena arranged and recorded by Tom Roush. It is quite good, although careful readers and listeners will notice that Roush’s version varies somewhat from the lyrics presented in this post.

Lorena by Tom Roush

Visit Tom Roush’s website – he has CDs of his great Civil War music for sale.

The years creep slowly by, Lorena
The snow is on the grass again
The sun’s low down the sky, Lorena
The frost gleams where the flowers have been
But the heart throbs on as warmly now
As when the summer days were nigh
Oh, the sun can never dip so low
A-down affection’s cloudless sky.

A hundred months have passed, Lorena
Since last I held that hand in mine
And felt the pulse beat fast, Lorena
Though mine beat faster far than thine
A hundred months…’twas flowery May
When up the hilly slope we climbed
To watch the dying of the day
And hear the distant church bells chime.

We loved each other then, Lorena
More than we ever dared to tell
And what we might have been, Lorena
Had but our loving prospered well
But then, ’tis past, the years have gone
I’ll not call up their shadowy forms
I’ll say to them, “Lost years, sleep on
Sleep on, nor heed life’s pelting storms.”

The story of the past, Lorena
Alas! I care not to repeat
The hopes that could not last, Lorena
They lived, but only lived to cheat
I would not cause e’en one regret
To rankle in your bosom now
“For if we try we may forget”
Were words of thine long years ago.

Yes, these were words of thine, Lorena
They are within my memory yet
They touched some tender chords, Lorena
Which thrill and tremble with regret
‘Twas not the woman’s heart which spoke
Thy heart was always true to me
A duty stern and piercing broke
The tie which linked my soul with thee.

It matters little now, Lorena
The past is in the eternal past
Our hearts will soon lie low, Lorena
Life’s tide is ebbing out so fast
There is a future, oh, thank God!
Of life this is so small a part
‘Tis dust to dust beneath the sod
But there, up there, ’tis heart to heart.

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5 thoughts on “Lorena

  1. Pingback: Lorena’s Reply | The Civil War by LearnCivilWarHistory.com

    • My reply to John, regarding the origin of the song Lorena:

      The reason I used the words “the actual origin of this song is uncertain” in this post is that during my research I found an interesting story in the book; Living History The Civil War – The History of the War between the States in Documents, Essays, Letters, Songs and Poems, edited by Henry Steele Commager and revised and expanded by Erik Bruun. On page 412 of this book, you will find the song Lorena described. This description includes:

      “[…] As with so many Civil War songs, the origin of “Lorena” is obscure. It has been assigned to one H. D. L. Webster, as early as 1850, but John Wyeth, historian of Forrest and author of With Sabre and Scalpel, gives it a different history:”

      “As we passed a home of the Trappist Brotherhood, Lieutenant Frank Brady entertained us by singing Lorena, a war time poem which had been set to music and was then very popular. He told us that the author of the poem was an inmate of this Trappist home. If this were so, and the self-imprisoned brother heard the sweet voice of the cavalier as he sang ‘The years creep slowly by, Lorena’ what sad and tender memories it must have awakened.”

      I think this story about the origins of Lorena is worth consideration and that is why I include the words “the actual origin of this song is uncertain” in this post. Here historians Commager, Bruun, and Wyeth have regarded the above Trappist Brotherhood story about Lorena credible enough to include it in their books.


  2. The tune “Lorena” was written as a poem by Henry D’Lafayette Webster. It was written about a past love by the name of Martha Ellen Blocksom. Both of these people lived in Zanesville Ohio, the year was 1850. Martha lived with her sister and brother in law in a fine house overlooking the Muskingum river valley, north of Zanesville, on a place called Hamline Hill. Henry was the preacher at a new church at the bottom of the hill, and he and Martha became involved, and courted for about a year and a half. Martha’s family finally convinced her that Henry, as a poor penniless preacher, would never give her the life she was raised to have, and she broke off their courtship. She moved on easily, but Henry was heartbroken. After four years of pining for Martha, he wrote a poem, six verses long, expressing his feelings for her, and his understanding of what would never be, and he named the poem “Bertha”, so no one would know he still longed for Martha. The poem was noticed by composer J.P. Webster, no relation to H.D. Webster, and after the two men discussed the possibility of J.P. Webster putting the poem to music, he did just that. However, J.P. told H.D. that the name Bertha would never work. H.D. said he could use any name except Martha or Ellen. J.P. Webster came up with the name Lorena, Spanish for the name Lorraine. Lorena was easily the most popular love song of the Civil War, forbidden to be sung by confederate soldiers, during the seige of Peteresburg in 1864, the thinking that it encouraged desertion. Thousands of baby girls were named Lorena after the war in the years to come. H.D. Webster was married twice, served as a medic (or nurse) in the Union Army. He died in 1896, and is buried in Chicago. J.P. Webster wrote many tunes, two of note, one was “In the sweet by and by”, and the other was “The wildwood flower” that the Carter Family recorded, and helped bring them to national acclaim some 50 years later. Martha Ellen Blocksom moved on, married a Supreme Court Justice from the state of Ohio named William Johnston. The couple had two children, neither lived to adulthood. William died in 1889. Martha outlived everyone, she died in 1917 at the age of 89. She was known after the Civil War as “The sweetheart of the Civil War”. She is buried alongside William in Woodland Cemetery, Ironton, Ohio. And today, as in the second verse, “And up the hilly slope we climbed, to watch the dying of the day, and hear the distant church bells chime”,
    you can still go to the top of Hamline Hill in Zanesville, watch the sunset over the Muskingum River Valley, and hear the church bells in downtown Zanesville chime. Very cool.

    Steve Ball

  3. To Steve Ball,

    Your comment is a wonderful contribution to the “Lorena” post! Thank you so much!

    I have family in Zanesville, Ohio, but have only spent a brief amount of time there for family occasions. I never knew this history.

    …Jonathan R. Allen

    Note to other readers:
    Steve Ball was modest and did not mention this in his comment, but I have learned that he is an accomplished Civil War musician and historian from Columbus, Ohio. Here is his website: http://steveballcivilwarmusic.com/home.cfm

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