One of the most popular Civil War songs was Lorena. Reverend Henry D. L. Webster first penned the lyrics in 1856 after his fiancé— Ella Blocksom—ended their engagement. However, in his version, the protagonist was named Bertha. A few years later, J.P. Webster—who was not related to Henry Webster—sought words to a musical piece he was composing. Henry Webster offered up his poem and J.P. Webster liked the phrasing but asked for a three-syllable name; the duo then changed the name Bertha to Lorena. Shortly thereafter, in 1858, Higgens Brothers of Chicago published the song and it quickly swept the nation. Lorena was a particular favorite among the Rebels, many of whom named their daughters Lorena. Notably, one Confederate officer reportedly banned the ballad because it inspired homesickness and desertion among his ranks while another Confederate soldier recalled that he heard Lorena more than any other song during the war.

The years creep slowly by, Lorena,
The snow is on the ground 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
To be 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,
Far more than we ever dared to tell;
And what we might have been, Lorena,
Had 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.

Image and Lyric Credit: Duke University Library’s Historic American Sheet Music collection.

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