cover image Play for a Kingdom

Play for a Kingdom

Tom Dyja / Author, Thomas Dyja / Author Houghton Mifflin Harco

In the blood-soaked woods of the Wilderness in Virginia in 1864, two small groups of Civil War soldiers engage in a game of death and honor. A Yankee infantry company, the Brooklyn 14th, on picket duty in the woods, takes a break from the horrors of war by playing a new game--baseball. Suddenly, a group of Confederate soldiers from Alabama appear, also seeking respite from the desperate battle. Warily, the soldiers challenge each other to a baseball game, Rebs versus Yanks. Such fraternization with the enemy is a court-martial offense and both groups know it; but, in their need to find respite from the mad slaughter, they lay down their rifles and pick up the bat and ball. Afterwards, they agree to rendezvous again for another game and, if possible, maybe a five-game series. Between these contests, they meet in battle in the Wilderness and again at Spotsylvania Court House. But the soldiers don't know that these chance meetings and secret baseball games are no coincidence. Lt. Burridge, the Union officer, has contrived the encounters to meet with a spy among the rebels. The baseball games give Burridge and the spy a chance to exchange information, but eventually the Yank and Reb soldiers begin to suspect betrayal and deceit. As first-novelist Dyja deftly captures many of the ironies of war (there are bigots in Brooklyn and abolitionists in Alabama), the novel's theme strikes home with a restrained eloquence. (Aug.)