Little Giffen of Tennessee

by Francis Orrery Tucknor

Out of the focal and foremost fire,
Out of the hospital walls as dire,
Smitten of grapeshot and gangrene,
(Eighteenth battle and he sixteen) --
Specter! such as you seldom see,
Little Giffen of Tennessee.

"Take him and welcome," the surgeon 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 in 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 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.



Civil War Field Hospital


Little Giffen


Tucknor, Francis Orrery

Year of Publication:


Age Appropriate:



Civil War


Human spirit overcoming adversity











Literary Period:


Things to Discuss:

Name the characters in this story poem. Did the story have a happy ending? What did the poet suggest in the last stanza?

About the Poem:

In 1863, following the Battle of Murfreesboro, sixteen-year-old Isaac Newton Giffen was plucked from a makeshift Confederate hospital in Georgia by a country doctor and his wife, who took him into their home and devoted the next six months to nursing him back to health. In addition to tending to his wounds, the doctor's wife taught this uneducated son of a Tennessee blacksmith to read and write. Giffen's recovery was progressing well when news came that his old commanding officer, General Joseph E. Johnston, was being pressed by Union forces near Atlanta, and the boy immediately donned his uniform and returned to the front. Issac Newton Giffen was killed a short time later during the Atlanta campaign.

About the Poet:

Dr. Tucknor was a physician at the Confederate Hospital on Upper Broad St. from 1861-1865.