The Battle of the Wilderness & Baseball in McFarland’s “Nostalgia”

Washington Post Best 50 Books of the Year
Washington Post Best 50 Books of the Year

Novels about baseball aren’t new. Novels about the Civil War aren’t new. But in Nostalgia, Dennis McFarland blends the two themes and creates a unique coming of age story. Injured, lost and left-behind, 19-year old Summerfield Hayes stumbles through deadly terrain in the aftermath of the bloody war of attrition at the Battle of the Wilderness. The dense underbrush of Spotsylvania County, VA, proved difficult for both the North and South to navigate, and the battle was fought to a draw. McFarland’s evocative, empathetic and lyrical prose skillfully depicts the beauty and horror of America’s mid-1800 history.

Battle of the Wilderness by Kurz and Allison
Battle of the Wilderness by Kurz and Allison

In spite of his privileged background, Hayes chose to enlist rather than avoid the Union Army draft. His enlistment is an escape from the life he shares with his older sister in the home left to them after the death of their parents. As a soldier, he befriends a variety of men from different social backgrounds, and gains a new perspective on life.

 Ellwood Manor, built in 1790, is the last remaining structure from the Battle of the Wilderness still standing today. (Via Wikipedia)
Ellwood Manor, built in 1790, is the last remaining structure from the Battle of the Wilderness still standing today. (Via Wikipedia)

During the winter of 1864, Summerfield Hayes, played baseball for the Eckford Club. His passion for the game, and his skill at pitching initially give Hayes a naive, innocent appeal. Once he goes to war, however, and uses his baseball prowess to make friends, McFarland’s narrative overlays the popular 19th century sport with the deadly game of war.

In the mid-19th century, baseball was played by different rules than modern baseball. It was also the custom for fielders play barehanded, without gloves.

If baseball or history is your passion, there are a surprising number of venues at which you can see clubs play. Gettysburg, PA hosts a National 19th Century Base Ball Festival, and this year 18 clubs will compete in the two day event from July 19-20, 2014.

If you are not able to make it to the Gettysburg Festival, the Flemington Neshanock Base Ball Club plays at different events. They consider themselves to be “Civil War re-enactors,” except they use a bat and ball instead of rifles and bayonets. Check their website for their schedule. Other clubs are listed on the Gettysburg National 19th Century Base Ball Festival site.

The Flemington Neshanock - 2011. Courtesy of The Flemington Neshanock
The Flemington Neshanock – 2011. Courtesy of The Flemington Neshanock

The original Flemington Neshanock were established in July 1866 and comprised mainly of the town’s prominent constituents. The President was George F. Crater, owner of the Crater’s Hotel, now the site of the Union Hotel. Other notable members include E. Vosseller (VP and short stop), R. S. Kuhl (Captain) and E. Page Southwick (Secretary and catcher).

For More Information:
Battle of the Wilderness National Park

Destination Gettysburg

The Flemington Neshanock Base Ball Club

Fredericksburg, VA Tourism

Gettysburg National 19th Century Base Ball Festival

Virginia Tourism

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