Complete credit and thanks go to www.civilwarhome.com for “Little Giffen” and its analysis. Of all the Civil War poems I have read thus far, “Little Giffen” is the one that illustrates better than I ever could the horrors of children going to war.
I try to address this tragedy in several of my poems, but the one that came to mind as I read “Little Giffen” was “Guided Tour,” a poem inspired by one of my visits to Stone Bridge and the park lands beyond it.
*Note on pic: I took this photo of the old boardwalk at Stone Bridge after a snowfall.
from “Guided Tour”
Follow their faces.
Ask them, why do
cracked trees bend
but still leak sap?
When did these woods
stop brandishing boys?
How did they teach
these children to hide,
to shoot at every noise?
This poem is true in every detail. The facts, often misstated, are set forth in a letter which the poets granddaughter, Miss Michelle Cutliffe Ticknor, courteously furnished for these pages. During the war, the wife of the poet daily visited the improvised hospitals of Columbus, Georgia. ” In one of these, the old Bank’s building, Mrs. Ticknor first saw the boy, Isaac Newton Giffen, and was so haunted by his pitiful condition that when the doctors declared his case hopeless, she carried him in her own carriage to ‘ Torch Hill,’ the country home of the Ticknors. There under the personal care of Dr. and Mrs. Ticknor he won his fight against death. Brought to ‘ Torch Hill’ in October, 1864, he left only in March, 1865, on receiving news of Johnston’s position. During his convalescence Mrs. Ticknor taught Giffen to read and write, and his deep gratitude toward the Ticknors leaves only one solution to his fate. How be met it, however, remains as obscure as his family history. That his father was a blacksmith in the mountains of East Tennessee is the only positive fact of his ancestry. He was sixteen years of age when taken by Mrs. Ticknor and had been engaged in eighteen battles and skirmishes.” It will thus be seen that the boy was wounded in one of the battles about Atlanta when Johnston and Hood were opposing Sherman. We may suppose that the Captain’s reply, given in the poem, was written after the battle of Nashville, December 15-16, 1864. In March, 1865, Johnston was again opposing Sherman, this time in the Carolinas, and it must have been in one of the closing battles of the war that ” Little Giffen ” lost his life.
Source: The Photographic History of the Civil War, Volume V