Saturday, June 1, 2013

Peter Carlson's "Junius and Albert’s Adventures in the Confederacy"

Peter Carlson, a former reporter and columnist for The Washington Post, is the author of three books of American history, including the newly published Junius and Albert's Adventures in the Confederacy: A Civil War Odyssey.

Carlson applied the “Page 99 Test” to Junius and Albert's Adventures in the Confederacy and reported the following:
Okay, I admit it: I’ve never read anything by Ford Madox Ford but I’ll be damned if he isn’t right in his comment about page 99 and its strange, mystical power to reveal the soul of a book.

My book is the true story of two reporters who covered the Civil War for the New York Tribune until they were captured by Confederates as they tried to sneak past Vicksburg on a hay barge. Shuffled from one Rebel prison to another, they finally escaped and attempted to trek across the snow-covered Appalachians with the help of slaves and pro-Union bushwhackers. On page 99, readers learn about the bribery scheme concocted by the crooked warden of Castle Thunder prison in Richmond. It’s a bit of shameless corruption that enabled the reporters-- Junius Browne and Albert Richardson--to buy gourmet food and live in (relative) luxury while most of their fellow prisoners were compelled to subsist on maggot-ridden soup and meat hacked from horses killed in cavalry battles.

“Compared to those about us,” Browne says on page 99, “we were the purple-robed patricians of the place.”

The warden, George Washington Alexander, wasn’t just a crook, he was also a former Confederate pirate and the author of a truly awful musical play that was performed in Richmond while he was warden. He liked to go to the theatre after work to make a cameo appearance in the show, riding his horse across the stage, accompanied by his huge Russian boarhound as the audience cheered. It’s the kind of weird, absurd detail that is left out of most Civil War books. I included it to show that the Civil War contained just as much weirdness and absurdity as any other era, even our own.

On the last line of page 99, the reader meets John Caphart, the prison hangman, a man so nasty that inmates nicknamed him “the Anti-Christ,” which is the source of the title of the chapter that contains page 99—“What Have I Done, Mr. Anti-Christ?”

Page 99 of Junius and Albert’s Adventures in the Confederacy gives readers a little taste of the many eccentric characters and unexpected situations that Browne and Richardson encountered on their odyssey through the Civil War. But it’s only a tiny taste—a mere sip--of the strange and wondrous events described on the other 251 pages of the book.
Learn more about the book and author at Peter Carlson's website.

--Marshal Zeringue