Little Giffen of Tennessee


Out of the focal and foremost fire,
Out of the hospital walls as dire,
Smitten of grape-shot and grangrene,
(Eighteenth battle, and he sixteen!)
Spectre! Such as you seldom see,
Little Giffen, of Tennessee.

“Take him- and welcome!” the surgeons said;
“Little the doctor can help the dead!”
So we took him and brought him where
The balm was sweet in the summer air;
And we laid him down on a wholesome bed-
Utter Lazarus, heel to head!

And we watched the war with abated breath-
Skeleton boy against skeleton death.
Months of torture, how many such!
Weary weeks of the stick and crutch;
And still a glint of the steel-blue eye
Told of a spirit that wouldn’t die.

And didn’t. Nay, more! In death’s despite
The crippled skeleton learned to write.
“Dear Mother,” at first, of course; and then
“Dear Captain,” inquiring about the men.
Captain’s answer: “Of eighty-and-five,
Giffen and I are left alive.”

Word of gloom from the war, one day;
“Johnston pressed at the front, they say.”
Little Giffen was up and away;
A tear-his first-as he bade good-by,
Dimmed the glint of his steel-blue eye.
“I’ll write, if spared!” There was news of the fight;
But none of Giffen. He did not write.

I sometimes fancy that, were I king
Of the princely knights of the Golden Ring,
With the song of the minstrel in mine ear,
And the tender legend that trembles here,
I’d give the best on his bended knee,
The whitest soul of my chivalry,
For Little Giffen, of Tennessee.

Isaac Newton Giffen was a 16 year old Confederate soldier from Tennessee;   serving in the Army of Tennessee he had fought in eighteen battles and skirmishes.  Severely wounded in October 1864, his case was considered hopeless when Doctor Francis Orray Ticknor and his wife took him in and nursed him back to health, teaching him how to read and write in the bargain.  Giffen chose to return to duty in March 1865 and died in one of the concluding battles of the War.  Dr. Ticknor and his wife were heartbroken, and Dr. Ticknor wrote the above poem so that Giffen would be remembered.  His young courage, and imperishable memory, reminds us of why we honor veterans this day.

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