Lorena was a popular Civil War song. The lady for whom it was written lived in Ironton, Lawrence Co., Ohio.
Daily Oregon Statesman, January 14, 1906
By Dan. Webster
Submitted by: Martha J. Kounse

Perhaps one of the most popular of ante-war songs was “Lorena.” The song has a history – in fact, several of them, no two alike, and yet, all claiming to be authentic. One of the most romantic of these histories was given to the public by Col. John A. Joyce, through the columns of the Washington Post, a few years ago. According to Col. Joyce the song was written by the Rev. Homer Webster, a son of the south; that it was written during the Civil war; that he was at one time pastor of a church in Pittsburgh; that he had as a member of his congregation a wealthy glass manufacturer, who had a lovely daughter named Lorena; that the young minister loved said daughter, and that she returned the affection, in short, that they mutually loved each other; that to satisfy her dying father, and persistent proud mother, she drowned the love of her soul, and tearfully married a millionaire; that soon after he left the chilling blasts of the north, drifted to Georgia and there enlisted in support of the “stars and bars,” where he tried to forget his sorrows, but without avail, as was evident by the said song.

Now, in all of the above there are but two minor facts, and they are, the author was a clergyman and his name was Webster, but Henry D. L. Webster instead of Homer. Neither was he a “son of the south,” having been born in central New York, in 1824, of New England parents, who, in 1828 moved to northern Ohio and settled near Elyria, Lorain county. Here, in a pioneer log cabin the boy was reared to manhood, often assisting his father, who was a blacksmith, in his shop. Having met with an accident, which permanently crippled his right hand, he turned his attention to the matter of fitting himself for teaching, and by dint of perseverance and strict economy, acquired an academic education. After teaching a short time, principally in Kentucky, he entered a law office in Columbus, Ohio, with a view of entering that profession. But becoming interested in a theological discussion between an orthodox and a Universalistic divine; he became a convert of the latter faith, and gave up the law for the ministry in the Universalistic denomination, which was a sad blow to his aged mother, who was a very strict, consistent member of the Methodist church. The matter, however, set her to thinking and in a year or so she too, became an avowed believer in universal salvation, and was ever proud of her “preacher boy.”

Now, as to the true story of “Lorena,” I will say that I write from the knowledge of the facts gained from a long acquaintance and association with the author, Rev. H. D. L. Webster, who was an uncle of mine, being my father’s youngest brother, and but nine years my senior. His first pastorate was in Zanesville, Ohio. There he be acquainted with a Miss Ella Blocksom, which acquaintance ripened into a mutual attachment and engagement. A wealthy married sister, with whom the girl made her home, had higher notions for her than that she should marry a poor preacher, and broke the engagement. The girl afterward married a young lawyer who became Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Ohio, the Hon. W. W. Johnson. (note from Sharon – William Wartenbee Johnson was a lawyer and judge in Ironton, Ohio) “Thus proving,” as the Rev. Webster afterward said, “the woman’s better sense as to the affair.” Mr. Webster himself, soon afterward married, and if the episode with the Zanesville girl ever caused him much sorrow, none of his family ever suspected it.

In 1853-4 he was pastor of a congregation in Warren, Mass. In March of the latter year he wrote the song, using the name Bertha, which was published in a Boston paper. In 1858 he occupied the pulpit in the Universalistic church in Racine, Wisconsin. Here he formed the acquaintance of J. P. Webster, who was then a popular composer of music, and under contract with Higgins Bros., of Chicago, to furnish them all the music he should compose, at a stipulated price. The preacher showed the verses to J. P. Webster, who, after reading them, asked permission to take them along with him, which was readily granted. It was then about 11 p.m., but before morning the music, as later published, was virtually completed, as the author afterward said “a case of inspiration.” There was one thing, however, that troubled him, and that was the name. He wanted a name of three syllables; and appealed to the author of the words to help find one suitable for the occasion. They together spent nearly as much time in finding a suitable name as the author had in writing the music. Finally, as if by inspiration, the name Lorena was suggested and adopted. It was first published by Higgins Brothers of Chicago, in 1857, and met with an almost unprecedented sale, the publishers making many thousands of dollars from its circulation. The price paid to J. P. Webster for writing it was the paltry sum of $25. Thus was given to the world a song of sentiment equal to Annie Laurie, and which during the Civil War was sung in the armies of both north and south, in fact, in all parts of the country. The only drawback to its popularity was its length, being composed of six stanzas of eight lines each, as follows:


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 beats on as warmly now
As when the summer days were nigh;
Oh, the sun can never dip so low
Adown 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 flow’ry May,
When up the hilly slope we climbed
To watch the dying of the day
And hear the distant church bells chimed.
We loved each other then, Lorena,
More than we ever dared to tell;
And what might have been, Lorena,
Had our lovings prospered well.
But then, ’tis past, the years are 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,”
Wise words of thine long years ago.
Yes, those wise words of thine, Lorena;
They burn within my memory yet;
They touch some tender chords, Lorena,
Which thrill and tremble with regret.
“Twas not thy woman’s heart that spoke –
Thy heart was always true to mine –
A duty stern and pressing broke
The tie that linked my soul to thine.
It matters little now, Lorena;
The past is in the eternal past;
Our heads will soon lie low, Lorena;
Life’s tide is ebbing out so fast.
There is a Future, O 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.’