Sidney Lanier was born in Macon, Georgia on February 3, 1842, the son of Robert Sampson Lanier and Mary Jane Anderson Lanier. He attended the Bibb County Male Academy and in 1857 entered the sophomore class of Oglethorp University in Milledgeville, Georgia. He graduated from Oglethorp in 1860 and was a tutor there from 1860-1861.
On July 10, 1861 Lanier enrolled as a private in the Macon Volunteers C.S.A. In the autumn of 1862 he transferred to the Signal corps and in 1863 while stationed at Fort Boykin, he began writing his first novel Tiger-Lilies which was published in 1867. Detailed to a blockade runner, Sidney Lanier was captured on November 6, 1864 and imprisoned at Point Lookout, Maryland. In the rigorous conditions of this camp he contracted tuberculosis. He was exchanged in February 1865 and returned to Macon. From 1865 to 1868 Lanier was a tutor, hotel clerk, and finally principal of an academy in Prattville, Alabama. He studied law under his father and practiced law as his health permitted from 1869 until 1873. For his health Lanier spent the winter of 1872- 73 in San Antonio, Texas.
In 1873 Lanier began his association with Baltimore. He came to Baltimore to play first flute in Asger Hamerik's Peabody Orchestra. For four seasons Lanier took a room in Baltimore, played in the orchestra and at the end of the season returned to his family in Georgia. During this period Lanier became acquainted with the Wednesday Club where he met Baltimore's leading literary and musical figures such as Leonce Rabillon, Innes Randolph, William Hand Browne, Edward Spencer, John Banister Tabb, Richard Malcolm Johnston, Severn Teackle Wallis, Henry Wysham, and Otto Sutro.
The years Lanier divided between Baltimore and Georgia were productive ones. He began to write poetry again publishing "Corn" and "The Symphony" in 1875, and "Cantata," "The Psalm of the West," "Clover," "The Waving of the Corn," and Poems all of which appeared in 1876. He also composed music, and he was commissioned to write the travel book Florida which was published in 1875.
Lanier moved his family to Baltimore in 1877. To supplement his income he taught at several private schools. In November 1878 Lanier gave a course on Shakespeare at the Peabody Institute. He then lectured at the newly organized Johns Hopkins University on "English Verse, Especially Shakespeare's" (1879), "Chaucer and Shakespeare" (1880), and "The English Novel" (1881). During this period Lanier published many poems including "The Revenge of Hamish" and "The Marshes of Glynn" in 1878 and "Sunrise" and "A Ballad of Trees and the Master" in 1880. He also completed The Science of English Verse (1880), and edited The Boy's King Arthur (1880), The Boy's Froissart (1879), "The Boy's Mabinogion," and "The Boy's Percy."
Lanier had been in ill-health for several years when he began a serious decline in 1881. He sought relief in the hills of North Carolina where died September 7. He was buried in Greenmount Cemetery in Baltimore. Lanier was survived by his wife Mary Day whom he had married in 1867 and their four sons Charles Day (b. 1868), Sidney (b. 1870), Henry Wysham (b. 1873), and Robert Sampson (b. 1880).
A chronology of Lanier's life is in Appendix 1