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Additional Resources

Poems and Songs of the American Civil War

Civil War Music

Bits of Blue and Gray - poetry of the Civil War

Wordles of Lorena and The Message



"H.D.L. Webster, a Presbyterian minister in Lanesville, Ohio, wrote the words to this song in 1856 after family opposition prevented his marriage to 19-year-old Ella Blockston, who sang in his church choir. Some years later, when composer J.P. Webster (no relation) asked the Reverend for words to accompany a piece of music he had just written, Webster offered this poem. Although the heroine was originally named "Bertha," she was re-christened "Lorena" to provide the three-syllable name needed to fit the meter of the music. Thus did the lost love of Reverend Webster's youth secure a place for herself in musical history.


"The following poem by Elizabeth Stuart Phelps Ward highlights the personhood of the soldier, the family life he abandoned in the name of something we don’t know, and the love that survived even the “red feet” of battle."


Was there ever message sweeter
Than that one from Malvern Hill,
From a grim old fellow,-you remember?
Dying in the dark at Malvern Hill.
With his rough face turned a little,
On, a heap of scarlet sand,
They found him, just within the thicket,
With a picture in his hand,

With a stained and crumpled picture
Of a woman's aged face;
Yet there seemed to leap a wild entreaty,
Young and living-tender-from the face
When they flashed the lantern on it,
Gilding all the purple shade,
And stooped to raise him softly,
That's my mother, sir," he said.

"Tell her"-but he wandered, slipping
Into tangled words and cries,
Something about Mac and Hooker,
Something dropping through the cries
About the kitten by the fire,
And mother's cranberry-pies; and there
The words fell, and an utter
Silence brooded in the air.

Just as he was drifting from them,
Out into the dark, alone
(Poor old mother, waiting for your message,
Waiting with the kitten, all alone!),
Through the hush his voice broke, Tell her
Thank you, Doctor-when you can,
Tell her that I kissed her picture,
And wished I'd been a better man."

Ah, I wonder if the red feet
Of departed battle-hours
May not leave for us their searching
Message from those distant hours.
Sisters, daughters, mothers, think you,
Would your heroes now or then,
Dying, kiss your pictured faces,
Wishing they'd been better men?