Junius and Albert’s Adventures in the Confederacy

I learned the word “picaresque” a long time ago, but have had very few occasions to use it. Peter Carlson’s Civil War odyssey is a picaresque tale, the story of two reporters who got themselves captured by confederates in Vicksburg, Miss., in May 1863, a misfortune that set them on the journey (and the adventure) chronicled in this detailed and gripping story. The fact that this isn’t a novel, and that Carlson has gathered the details of the two men’s travail from mostly neglected sources, allows Civil War buffs a whole new perspective on that seminal event in American history. For those of us who have worked in journalism, the insight into how reporters worked a century and a half ago only adds to the interest generated by the episodic events that take place as Junius Browne and Albert Richardson make their way from Mississippi across the south, ending up in the infamous Libby Prison before later making an escape to the union lines. Carlson, a respected journalist himself, resurrects these two 19th-century journalists, bringing them back to life vividly. And, if you don’t know the word picaresque, this is the perfect time to add it to your word hoard.