Thursday, July 4, 2013

Junius and Albert's Adventures in the Confederacy - Peter Carlson

First line: "Soon the Great Battle would begin and Browne and Richardson were determined not to miss it."

This is a rarity for me, a non-fiction audiobook. But the top sounded intriguing--I've always been fascinated by the Civil War--so I decided to give it a try. I'm super glad I's why!

Junius Browne and Albert Richardson were war correspondents for the New York Tribune during the Civil War. However, at the Battle of Vicksburg they were captured with Union Troops. They were first imprisoned at Libby Prison in Richmond, VA, where they were pardoned and set to be included in a regular troop exchange. However, between the fact that Brown and Richardson were employed by one of the most outspoken anti-slavery papers in the North and the halting of troop exchanges (the South wouldn't agree to include Negros in the exchanges so the North refused to exchange at all), their freedom did not materialize.

They were ultimately shipped from Libby Prison to Salisbury Prison where they witnessed horrible living conditions due to lack of food and space. The prison was housing far more people than it's capacity.

With some plotting and planning Browne and Richardson managed to escape. Once out they  undertook an amazing odyssey, assisted by slaves and pro-Unionists. Their story is one of determination and courage, and not solely their own. The stories of those whom they met along the way are as amazing as the reporters'.

Junius and Albert's Adventures in the Confederacy reads very much like a work of fiction. It's suspenseful and dramatic, at times comedic. So those who dislike the formality of non-fiction may still enjoy this adventurous escape tale. Danny Campbell narrates the HighBridge audio, often helping listeners to forget it isn't a fictitious story. His reading, while not especially dramatic, does help to meld some of the sections of factual background and prevent them from weighing down the book.

I found the factoids that pepper the story to be as fascinating as the overall story of Junius and Albert.  There are details about weaponry, about uniforms and food and the roles people had in the prisons. There is the "apple brandy" offered to the escapees when they find safe homes to hide in temporarily. Or the mules they rode with corn sacks for saddles. And the incredible generosity of an African-American who gave Browne his hat because Browne didn't have anything to cover his head. Campbell never minimizes these little gems in his narration. They may only be a sentence or a phrase of mention, but Campbell's awareness of them helps to leave a lasting impression on the listener.

The HighBridge production is a solid one, leaving out distracting noises such as Campbell's inhalations. Let's face it, we all need to breathe as we read, but often those breaths between words can be distracting as a listener. This production ensures no one is distracted from the voyage of it's title subjects.

I did find the conclusion of the book to be a bit longer than it needed to be, but this may be attributable to my predominately fiction reading (and crime novels at that!). The excitement of the escape comes to a close but the book continues on for over another disc with additional information about life after: publications, families, etc. For me it took away from the momentum that had been created by the odyssey tale and was maybe better left to other history books, like maybe biographies.

All in all, I am very glad I picked up this audiobook. It provided a perspective of the War I hadn't heard before; it provided tidbits of factoids that piqued my curiosities; and it made for an exciting listen.

Junius and Albert's Adventures in the Confederacy: A Civil War Odyssey is available unabridged (ISBN: 978-1622311682) from HighBridge Audio (8 discs for 10 1/2 hours) or in hardcover (ISBN: 9781610391542) from Public Affairs.


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