REVIEW: Yankee reporters in the Confederate South quite a ride
“Junius and Albert’s Adventures in the Confederacy: A Civil War Odyssey” by Peter Carlson (PublicAffairs Books, $26.99)
There’s a new book out that spins the real life tale of two reporters during the Civil War, taking readers on a historic, action-packed journey that is “Junius and Albert’s Adventures in the Confederacy: A Civil War Odyssey” by Peter Carlson.
Junius Browne and Albert Richardson of the New York Tribune were friends since they met in 1853 as cub reporters working for rival Cincinnati newspapers. They chose to become newspapermen, Carlson writes, because they longed for adventure. In those days, being a reporter was indeed an adventure, as “Junius and Albert’s Adventures in the Confederacy” shows. But the camaraderie of wartime correspondents takes a different tone when they’re caught by Confederates and sent to military prison.
Their boss was Horace Greeley, the man who coined the phrase “Go West, young man.” New York Tribune, Carlson writes, was the most famous and controversial newspaper in the country, and “despised by Confederates for its abolitionist crusading.” So, not only were Richardson and Browne reporters, and Yankees, but Yankee reporters for the hated New York Tribune.
Author Carlson spent 22 years as a reporter and columnist for The Washington Post, and it shows in his adeptness at crafting a spectacular narrative. The title has the men’s first names, but in newspaper style, the newspaperman author refers to them by their last names, as it should be.
This is one that will be enjoyed by history buffs, historians and anyone who reads more than the lede in newspaper stories. It illuminates a side of the war we don’t often read about in current historic literary offerings. But it doesn’t stand out just because it’s told from the experiences of journalists. Readers meet all the other real life characters Richardson and Browne met along the way, from colonels to jailers, Yankees and the Rebels who repeated so frequently that they would “die in the last ditch” it became a newsman joke.
Some historical tidbits for readers to anticipate: Richardson witnessed the battle of Antietam, and wrote about the bloody fight and the field of dead it left. He took a petition in support of a fellow reporter right to the White House and President Abraham Lincoln. Richardson, Browne and another reporter were caught by Confederates during a bombardment on the Mississippi River and transferred from jail to jail as their parole was processed, going from Vicksburg to Libby Prison in Richmond, where Union prisoners quickly surrounded them seeking news of the war. Most fellow reporters, even the Rebels, were cordial and even socialized with their Yankee counterparts. Journalists will like reading about encounters between reporters.
There are a lot of details that Civil War buffs will enjoy learning, like the origin of the name Libby Prison. Built originally as a tobacco warehouse in the 1840s, businessman Luther Libby bought it in 1861 to be Libby and Son, Ship Chandlers and Grocers. By 1862, the Confederate government took over the building for a prison. Carlson’s narrative of Richardson and Browne’s time in Libby Prison is crafted in such a way to place you there in the filth. As if Libby weren’t bad enough, they are transferred after 15 weeks to the even more deplorable Castle Thunder down the street, led by a Confederate pirate. Yes, a pirate. Not just someone indicted for piracy, but a pirate who wrote a musical play. In Libby Prison, they were housed with Union officers. In Castle Thunder, it was a mix of deserters, spies and criminals. But the pirate captain was corrupt enough that the reporters’ quarters were pretty good. After nine months in captivity, as other reporters’ parole papers were honored, Richardson and Browne remained, and were transferred down to Salisbury Prison in North Carolina.
They spent another 10 months at Salisbury Prison, before their own escape, and the odyssey continued with creeping through the Confederacy all the way to Tennessee. The reporters, accompanied by other newsmen and fugitives, were fed and sheltered by slaves until they got to the mountains. Once they reached the Blue Ridge, it was a new gauntlet of Home Guard, snow and terrain. Richardson and Browne survived the war, so I’m not giving anything away by telling you they made it to Union lines.
“Junius and Albert’s Adventures in the Confederacy” would make a fantastic movie, too, but the tale is worth reading on the edge of your seat. A Civil War odyssey, indeed.
WHEN: 6:30 p.m. Wednesday
WHERE: McIntyre’s Fine Books
220 Market St., Fearrington Village, Pittsboro