A Poem to a Dead Civil War Soldier in Andersonville, from His Father - 1865

Joseph Humphrey Griffith, my Great Great Uncle, was born at Cae Clyd, Blaenau Ffestiniog, Wales on June 23, 1847. With his family, he immigrated to America in 1851, landing in Vermont, then to Wisconsin, and finally settling in Iowa City, Iowa.  Like many young men of that era, he enlisted to fight for his chosen "side" in the Civil War. He was in the Fifth Iowa Regiment of Volunteer Cavalry, enlisting in early 1864.

He was only 16.


His military career was not long at all.  By all accounts, he was captured in 1864 and sent to Andersonville Prison, Georgia in later 1864.

He died there on January 31, 1865.

After many months, his father, my great great grandfather, Humphrey Griffiths, summoned the courage to write a poem in memory of his beloved son:


LINES IN MEMORY OF JOSEPH GRIFFTTH,

MY BELOVED SON,

WHO WAS STARVED IN PRISON IN GEORGIA

For many a month, I have intended sending these verses, but starting out anew I feel bound to express my feelings even though I dread [criticism] from the poets. These verses are my sentiments and are not poetry and I implore all the bards to forgive me for publishing them.

Sad tidings come every now and then
To all of us where we tread,
And now 'tis us who are in grief
Whose hearts afflicted are.

What wonder is it, pray,
That tribulation wrecks our souls
When news came of Joseph's death
Who suffered so, in bonds did starve.

Atlanta in Georgia was the land
Whereon his watch foe did strike,
In terror was he quickly seized
While guarding thus the copse of wood.

Incarcerated was our son
For guarding true his land
Encaptured there the lad did lay
Denied of bread and water een withheld.

In jail for months he rotted
Wasting away for want of food,
Compassion, there was none
All hastened on his death.

For long did we, your parents dear,
Beholding all the wrongs you had
Dread that the next we'd hear
Would be that death had come to you.

Barbarians, lowest of our world
If told they were of thy lament
Would scream in fright, aloud and clear
For fear of nearing Davis or Lee.

Farewell my son, now resting safe,
Away from reach of lance or sword
Away from prison, away from toil,
You suffered so in youthful days.

Our wish to have you beside your sister dear
In honor laid to rest is not to be.
For thy remains, alas, are mingled
With those of thy comrades bold.

In grief, his father

Humphrey Griffith
Iowa City, June 30, 1865

Translated from the Welsh by a Blaenau Ffestiniog journalist/historian for Ifan Williams, Cae Clyd.
March 1977.

With thanks to Joan Huff, "Griffith Evans and Gwen Joseph Family History," 1990

1 comment:

  1. Your great great uncle is brave to venture expressing his grief in poetic lines, in the high or "sublime" style of strong, compressed emotion. I can feel that he wants this poem itself to be a memorial, as well as a dignified outcry at the way his son was treated, at the callousness and inhumanity of being starved in prison. "Man is a wolf to man."

    I can't help but wonder how the poem sounds in Welsh, and I recall the liquid syllables of Dylan Thomas.

    I'm reminded of the Shakespeare sonnet #55, "Not marble nor the gilded monuments / Of princes."

    Thank you for sharing this poem with us.


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