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Lorena

by

Henry Webster



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"Lorena" was one of the most popular songs in the United States immediately prior to and during the Civil War; based on a true story, its origins are extremely well documented. It started life as a poem by a Presbyterian Minister in Zanesville, Ohio, the Reverend Henry De Lafayette Webster (1824-96); he wrote it in 1856 after family opposition blocked his marriage to nineteen year old Ella Blocksom, who sang in his choir. When the relationship was ended, he resigned his post and shortly met Joseph Philbrick Webster, who set it to music. The heroine was originally called Bertha, but the composer altered this because he needed a three syllabled named. Lorena is an adaptation of Lenore, from the Edgar Allen Poe poem The Raven.
The line "If we try, we may forget" is taken from Ella's parting letter to Henry. She went on to marry William Wartenbee Johnson, who sat on the Ohio Supreme Court from 1879-86. She is buried in Woodland Cemetery, Ironton, Ohio.
"Lorena" was popular with soldiers on both sides of the conflict; one Confederate officer even blamed it for the South's defeat, reasoning that it made soldiers homesick and ineffective. It established Webster as a composer, and was his most famous song, although "I'll Twine 'Mid The Ringlets" (better known as "Wildwood Flower") would become a big hit long after his death.
"Lorena" was first published by H. M. Higgins Brothers of Chicago, in 1857; the Library Of Congress holds a copy printed by J.C Shreiner of Macon, Georgia between 1862 and 1864. It has been published and recorded a number of times since, including a 1950s a cappella arrangement by Ralph Hunter, Robert Shaw and Alice Parker.
Webster and Webster also wrote an answer song called "Paul Vane or Lorena's Reply," which is essentially more of the same. "Lorena" has been used as incidental music in at least two films, and is the subject of a full length book, the 1962 treatise The Sweetheart Of The Civil War: The True Story Of "Lorena", which was written by Ernest K. Emurian. (thanks, Alexander Baron - London, England, for all above)
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