“‘Easy’ I said. “Mr. Lincoln’s Hirelings and the Ford City Gallinippers. Played one game at Camp Ford, Texas.”The reporter gave Win a confused look and walked away. He didn’t mention either of the teams in the newspaper the next day, and Win MacNaughton spends the rest of Johnny D. Boggs’ Camp Ford explaining his answer. He begins his story as a boy in Rhode Island where he is introduced to the game that shaped his life. His move with his parents to Jacksboro, Texas, where his father gets involved with the anti-slavery movement and, when the Civil War breaks out, his parents take him back North where, in 1863 he joins the 3rd Rhode Island Cavalry.
It isn’t long before Win finds himself a prisoner of war at Camp Ford, Texas where life is hard, cruel, and, surprisingly, filled with baseball—even the Southerners are learning the game.
Camp Ford won the Spur Award for best novel in 2005, and it is the best Western novel I have read in a long time. Mr. Boggs adroitly weaves two storylines—the aged Win MacNaughton watching the 1946 World Series in St. Louis, and Win MacNaughton as a boy growing up in a changing and violent time with the new game of baseball. The prisoner of war scenes are harsh and realistic with vivid descriptions of the place, the characters, and, most importantly, the inner thoughts of MacNaughton as he tries to survive captivity.
The characters are richly created and populate the novel with a sincerity and richness often lacking in this genre, or any other. The ideals of friendship, love, and hate are explored, and Mr Boggs leaves just enough ambiguity in the narrative to allow the reader to judge the actions of the characters. The storyline is refreshing and original. It has just the right mixture of baseball folklore and Civil War history to satisfy both readers of historical fiction, and anyone who enjoys the sport. But more importantly Camp Ford is a wonderfully entertaining and downright enjoyable novel.
I enjoyed this novel enough when I originally read it that it was included in my top five novels that year. Camp Ford is a novel you should make a point to read.
This review was originally published in slightly different form at the long ago blog Saddlebums on December 16, 2007, but since it is the season of baseball, and the current World Series is being played by the Red Sox and Cardinals, I decided to dust it off and give it new life. Camp Ford is currently available as an ebook.