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"Lorena" is an antebellum song with Northern origins. The lyrics were written in 1856 by Rev. Henry D. L. Webster, after a broken engagement. He wrote a long poem about his fiancée but changed her name to "Lorena," an adaptation of "Lenore" from Edgar Allan Poe's poem "The Raven." Henry Webster's friend Joseph Philbrick Webster wrote the music, and the song was first published in Chicago in 1857. It became a favorite of soldiers of both sides during the American Civil War.
During the American Civil War, soldiers on both sides of the conflict thought of their wives and girlfriends back home when they heard the song "Lorena." One Confederate officer even attributed the South's defeat to the song. He reasoned that upon hearing the mournful ballad the soldiers grew so homesick that they lost their effectiveness as a fighting force.
Her parents being deceased, Miss Blocksom lived with her sister and brother-in-law, Mr. and Mrs. Henry Blandy. The family attended the Universalist Church in Zanesville where the Rev. Henry DeLafayette Webster was the minister. Miss Blocksom caught the eye of the young preacher and his feelings became more than just pastoral. Henry Blandy and his brother Fred were co-owners of the Blandy foundry in Zanesville. As a wealthy and prominent member of the community he could not see his sister-in-law becoming romantically attached to a poor preacher and so stepped in to put an end to the relationship. Miss Blocksom told Webster that they must part and gave him a letter containing the line "If we try, we may forget," which found its way into the song. The brokenhearted Mr. Webster resigned his pastorate and left Zanesville. In 1856, Webster met Joseph P. Webster (who later composed the music of "[In the] Sweet By and By"). J. P. Webster was looking for lyrics to a song he was writing and Henry Webster responded by writing a ballad about his lost love, changing her name from Ella to Bertha. The composer required a three-syllable name and Henry Webster changed the name again, this time to Lorena. The song was published in 1857 by Higgins Brothers of Chicago and soon was known across America.
Ella Blocksom is buried at Woodland Cemetery in Ironton, Ohio.
An instrumental version appears in Gone With The Wind when Scarlett O'Hara is manning the stall at the charity dance in her mourning outfit and Rhett Butler pursues her whilst she is trying to avoid him.
When the two marry, they name their daughter Ella Lorena after the song and fashion.
The main character, Fiona, goes camping with her family and learns that the woods are supposedly haunted by the ghost of a Civil War soldier who whistles 'Lorena'. It turns out that a Civil War soldier had been injured in the woods long ago and was befriended by a sasquatch, whom the soldier taught to whistle the tune 'Lorena'. While the soldier ultimately dies from his injury, the sasquatch survives into present-day and is revealed to be the one who is whistling the tune in the woods at night. When he hears Fiona whistling the tune many years later, hoping to find the imaginary ghost, the sasquatch decides that there is a connection to his old friend and reveals himself to Fiona so that she can return the lost soldier's heirlooms to his family.
The tune of this song is used in the saloon scene near the beginning of Cowboys & Aliens, played on fiddle. The saloon keeper tells the fiddler that it is too melancholy and asks him to play a different tune. Near the end of the movie, the piano player plays an upbeat version of the tune, and the crowd celebrates their victory over the aliens by dancing to it.
A variation of this song is played during a brief scene in episode seven, "Most Hallowed Ground (1864)", of the Ken Burn's documentary, Civil War, in which a Georgia sharpshooter is said to have played his cornet during lulls in battle.
American activisit, songwriter, and folksinger, U. Utah Phillips, employed the melody of "Lorena" for his "Ashes on the Sea", an homily to his discovering of the death of Woody Guthrie. <Starlight on the Rails (book) by Utah Phillips, annotation herein by Deborah Robins>