the man who killed isaac kane


My regiment? The New York 156th, B Company.

I’d left the farm in the hands of my wife and her uncle

(Polly and I never had children,

Something I’m grateful for now.)

We’d boarded the train in Kingston,

Figuring we’d have a picnic, see the countryside

Fire a few shots at the Rebels and the odd squirrel

And be home before snowfall.

The picnic was spoiled damn quickly, and not by ants;

We took fire within a half-day of meeting up with the main body of the corps,

And couldn’t get our heads back up until damn near Appomattox.


Truth told, I don’t remember exactly how many men I killed

(And in some cases, that’s stretching the truth,

As some of them looked like altar boys from the church,

Same age as the sons I’d never had.)

You find after a while it’s best to lose count,

Do what you can to forget faces

(Now that the beds are soft and the fields are quiet,

The faces come back to disturb my nights then and again.)

Fact is, I’m convinced I survived only because

I rode down what was human about me, or at least the good part;

Best to be like cows or oxen—eat what you can where you can,

Sleep when you might have the option,

And, like the other poor dumb bovine bastards waiting for the cudgel,

Don’t let your thoughts stray elsewhere

Until you’re more kin with the animals than anything else

(I remember Tommy Dunbar from over Esopus way

Brought his dog with him; it marched with us all the way to Pleasant Hill,

And the only time I cried between enlisting and mustering out

Was when that mongrel snuffed it.)

Anyways, that is all over, and good riddance to it; I’ve no desire

To mount up with the Grand Army of the Republic types

And wave the bloody shirt in some convention hall in Albany,

Nor am I inclined to meet up with fellow graybeards

From the other side of the line to sleep in tents

And mock-shoot wooden rifles and imaginary minie balls.

It’s over, and I prefer to keep it that way.

Funny thing, the colonels and chaplains always insisted

That God was on our side, and I suspect their boys did the same.

I suspect (though I’d never tell preacher, of course)

That He left the field quite early in the proceedings.


(As the portion of my brain which comes up with ideas is apparently out of commission for good, I’m grateful for the prompts at Real Toads.  In this piece, I’ve given the un-named Kane brother from “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” a first name, and to hell with the consequences.  As a tip of the hat to the late Mr. Helm, the 156th New York most likely had a few boys from his adopted home town of Woodstock.)





9 thoughts on “the man who killed isaac kane

  1. This is painfully and creatively wrought. This part especially:

    “Truth told, I don’t remember exactly how many men I killed

    (And in some cases, that’s stretching the truth,

    As some of them looked like altar boys from the church,

    Same age as the sons I’d never had.)”

  2. yeah, this is rather fantastic, so many phrases that made me pause and read again. one in particular: “best to be like cows.” whoosh.

  3. as far as it being ‘over’ is concerned, it might have been, til the toad prompt, then you jumped in, bang bang…old worriors, they’re worster than drunks, if they’re not both…also, the bit about worn out brains is confessedly familiar…i deeply sympathize, having caught the virus some time now

  4. You brought it all to life: the before, while and after of Civil War, and then the part where you try to figure out whose side God was on. This hits hard for its first person perspective, and its honesty. History should be part of our every day consciousness – we carry the consequences with us whether we acknowledge it or not.

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