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Historian shares whopper of a tale

June 13, 2002|by KEVIN CLAPP

kevinc@herald-mail.com

Engaging as history can be, there is something cold about the recitation of facts and figures.

Robert N. Macomber knows; for most of his literary career, the maritime historian has assembled non-fiction narratives in between sailing the globe.

But he enjoys warming up the presentation of the past by providing a little human touch to the stories that have shaped our aquatic history.

And has he got a whopper to share Saturday night in Hagers-town.

"It's a fascinating topic, a very little-known part of the war. And it could be a movie. It's amazing," Macomber says. "It appeals to people no matter where they're from, North or South. It speaks to honor, both North and South."

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Although eager to preserve the drama and mystery of the tale he will share during the Saturday dinner of the Annual Civil War Muster Gathering at Four Points Sheraton Hotel on Dual Highway, the speaker and author does divulge a few tidbits about the "Legend of the Sword of Key West - The true story of how a Yankee Colonel saved the Confederate people of Key West."

Families of Confederate soldiers faced a form of ethnic cleansing in 1863: Being uprooted from their homes and moved some 500 miles north to a desolate island off the coast of South Carolina. Their crime: Being related to Confederate forces.

How this situation came to pass - and either was or was not averted - will dominate his discussion. Otherwise, his talk will wrap around to a book signing of his first foray into historical fiction.

"At the Edge of Honor" is the first in an anticipated seven novel series that will bring to life Peter Wake, a northerner who joins the Navy during the Civil War and is assigned to Florida with the East Gulf Blockading Squadron.

Wait a sec - Civil War in the land of Everglades and large cartoon mice?

Here in the cradle of the Civil War, it's easy to forget that the battle between the states unfolded on fronts beyond those at Antietam and Gettysburg. Macomber enjoys spreading the word about lesser-known aspects of the Civil War.

"I enjoy the teaching aspect of it, where you can perhaps bring to mind some things they had not known before," the author says. "I think people are very, very interested and very knowledgeable about the Civil War, but I think they might have reached their saturation point and are interested in learning something new."

Like discovering Florida's role in the war, says Macomber, born and bred in the Sunshine State, which in 1861 became the third in the union to secede. The state also saw quite a bit of naval action. "At the Edge of Honor" will allow Macomber to present this history within the context of his fictional character, Wake.

Released in February, "Honor" will be followed by "Point of Honor," which is already in the can. The third volume, "Honorable Mention," is nearly complete and Macomber says the easiest thing for him to do these days is continue his fictional epic, buoyed by the response of readers he is encountering on this book tour, which will take him from Virginia to Annapolis to Hagerstown and back south through South Carolina and Atlanta.

"Every moment I'm not working on it, it bothers me more," he admits. "It has become a real, not an obsession but ... the great feedback propels me even further to get more work done, so it's not a chore at all."

Right now, though, he relishes the opportunity to visit Antietam National Battlefield for the first time, and share his little-known thoughts with a new group of listeners.

"There were interesting, unique things happening all over the place," Macomber says. "Now they can see the place (Florida) they only know as condos in a whole new light."

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