Winner of the Western Heritage Wrangler and Spur Awards for his Western fiction, former sports journalist Johnny D. Boggs combines three American icons --
the Old West, the Civil War and baseball -- in his latest novel, Camp Ford.
During the 1946 World Series, 99-year-old Win MacNaughton recalls the greatest baseball game of his entire life, and the events leading to that 1865 contest between a ragtag collection of Union prisoners of war against a squad of Confederate prison guards.
As a young boy in Rhode Island, MacNaughton falls in love with the new sport of baseball. When his family moves to the frontier community of Jacksboro, Texas, Win preaches baseball while his father pushes for Abolition. The outbreak of the Civil War sends the MacNaughtons back to Rhode Island, where Win’s father enlists in the Union Army. When his father is killed at Gettysburg, young Win runs away from home with best friend Mike Peabody to join the Union cause and avenge his father’s death. Captured in Louisiana during the catastrophicRed River Campaign, Win is sent along with a good many others to Camp Ford near Tyler, Texas -- the largest prisoner of war compound west of the Mississippi River. There, some POWs play baseball to pass the time, and Confederate guards develop a fondness for the damnyankee game. Soon, a game between the guards and POWs is proposed. At first, the contest for the prisoners is merely an attempt to escape confinement until winning becomes the most important thing in their lives, and something their Rebel opponents are determined will not happen.
Meticulously researched, Camp Ford blends pathos with humor in this bittersweet story of friendship, betrayal, and the love of baseball.
An Excerpt from Camp Ford:
All these years later, and what strikes me most, what I remember the most, are the smells. Not the stink of death, of offal and decay - although I still have nightmares once or twice a year, waking up with the taste of bile, the pungency of the stockade embedded in my nostrils - but scents we take for granted: pine tar and grass, chewing tobacco and goober peas, leather and the sour odor of sweat. Strolling through the woods, I will be overcome by emotions from just a hint of rosin. I can walk past a florist, and feel the tears well, brought on by the aroma of fresh roses. I close my eyes and see them again, the good and bad, my friends and enemies, Sweet's Guards and turncoat razorbacks, Ward Keener, Mike Peabody, Pig Oliver, Sharky the Seaman, Captain Conall McGee and Jane Anne Bartholomew, feel the knot on my head and the crack in my skull.
I am ninety-nine years old, and have seen wars and depressions, automobiles and moving pictures, the beauty of spring, terrible brown clouds of dirt that some said portended Armageddon, and, more recently, a horrible end to a grueling war that many fear might just spell the beginning of the end of our Earth. I have seen my children, grandchildren, even great-grandchildren grow up, and, in agonizing cases, die. I have outlived my wife by twenty-one years. I have been honored, saluted, chastised. And I have seen countless games of baseball played across these United States that I fought to preserve as a mere teenager. I have cheered Wee Willie Keeler, and have cursed at, and been cursed by, Ty Cobb. I have played on great, and a lot more mediocre, teams in the National Association of Base Ball Players after the War of the Rebellion, worked as an umpire in the Texas League from 1889 to 1894, managed that league's Corsicana Oilers for J. Doak Roberts for two seasons after the turn of the century, and traveled with the Providence Grays - admittedly playing little as an aging catcher - for two glorious seasons, 1878-1879.
Every spring or fall, I am invited to some function or other relating to this game we call America's pastime, be it a National League, American League, Texas League or even some college opener. Every year, a newspaper reporter asks me what was the greatest team or game I ever saw, and I always offer some nonsensical reply that befuddles the reporter until he dismisses my answer as the rambling diatribe of an ancient old coot. This year, 1946, The Sporting News invited me attend the World Series games at Sportsman's Park, and, before the opener, a reporter with the Globe-Democrat asked me how the Cardinals or Red Sox would fare against the best teams I had seen over the course of my ninety-nine years.
I answered that, actually, when I was born in 1847, baseball itself was just an infant, so that ninety-nine years is a bit misleading, that the first game I recall seeing was an exhibition in Rhode Island when I was eleven, and kept on spitting out flapdoodle until the reporter asked me to name the best team I had ever seen.
"Can I name two?" I said.
"Okay," the reporter agreed.
"Easy," I said. "Mister Lincoln's Hirelings and the Ford City Gallinippers. Played one game at Camp Ford, Texas."
He didn't mention those teams in the next day's paper, nor in any other editions during what turned out to be one of the greatest championship series ever played, probably writing me off as senile. As I don't know that I'll live to see another World Series, or even another opening day, another baseball game, or ever be asked again to name the greatest team or teams, I am logging my thoughts on these Big Chief tablets I purchased at the Pelegrimas Five & Dime in St. Louis, hoping someone will find it after I'm gone, and decipher my babbling and prehistoric scrawl. Or, if I do reach the century milestone, and if I am invited to another baseball game, and if a reporter asks me once more to name the greatest game I ever witnessed between the two best teams, I will hand him this memoir and say again:
"Easy. Mister Lincoln's Hirelings and the Ford City Gallinippers in a one-game championship at Camp Ford, Texas. They were playing for stakes much higher than any World Series."
Read this story, if you desire, and draw your own conclusions.
Copyright 2005 by Johnny D. Boggs