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Junius and Albert’s Adventures in the Confederacy: A Civil War Odyssey

By Peter Carlson, PublicAffairs

Junius Browne and Albert Richardson became newspaper reporters because they craved adventure. As this thoroughly entertaining new book explains, they found plenty, even before Confederates captured them and sent them on an eventful tour through Southern prisons that lasted almost two grueling years.

Browne was small, balding and somewhat shy. Married with a growing family in Massachusetts, Richardson was bearded and self-confident. He began reporting for the New York Tribune after a chance meeting with its legendary editor, Horace Greeley. Richardson recruited his friend Browne for the newspaper’s stable, and the duo set out to cover the war. They were at Fort Donelson when Ulysses S. Grant captured it. Richardson covered Antietam; Browne missed Arkansas’ Battle of Pea Ridge but, as many newsmen of the era did, still wrote a detailed—and completely fabricated—account of the fighting.

 The two men had reunited to cover Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign when things went awry on May 4, 1863. Vicksburg’s defenders shelled the steam tug taking the reporters down the Mississippi, fished the men from the river and shipped them to Richmond. Browne and Richardson spent 15 miserable weeks in Libby Prison before being packed off across town to Castle Thunder. In February 1864 they were shipped off again, this time to Salisbury, N.C.

Things there went from not so bad to much, much worse as an influx of captured Union soldiers turned the prison into an overcrowded hell populated by “skeletons in rags.” Conditions deteriorated and hope faded until, on December 18, 1864, Browne, Richardson and two other men made their break. Joined by a fifth escapee, the men aimed to reach Union lines 200 miles away. It was a tense, uncertain trek. They depended on area slaves for food and shelter—“the story of the Underground Railroad with the colors reversed,” Carlson writes— and also received assistance from pro-Union citizens in the hill areas of North Carolina. Did they make their way back to freedom? Well, that would be telling.

Carlson, a former journalist, knows a good story when he finds one, and demonstrates a talent for ferreting out the odd detail and humanizing incident as he peers into some obscure corners of Civil War history. Aided in no small degree by the accounts his two principals left behind, Carlson weaves a suspenseful, fast-paced and sometimes wry tale, as full of incident and surprise as a novel.