Book excerpt: Honoring the Enemy by Robert N. Macomber

Robert N. Macomber’s popular maritime thrillers describe the life and career of a U.S. naval officer, from the Civil War in Florida to the years beyond the Spanish-American War in 1898.

The just-released, Honoring The Enemy, published by USNI, is the 14th novel in the Honor Series. It brings readers to the Spanish-American War, covering operations from June to mid-July 1898 and focuses on Florida and eastern Cuba, with the opening scene in Tampa.

Honoring The Enemy and Macomber’s earlier novels are inspired by actual events. This latest installment depicts Army and naval combat in detail

From Chapter 1: The Hotel

© Reprinted, by permission, from Robert N. Macomber, Honoring The Enemy: A Captain Peter Wake Novel (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2019)

U.S. Army V Corps Headquarters, Tampa Bay Hotel, Tampa, Florida 5:45 a.m., Monday, 6 June 1898

The Tampa Bay Hotel, Florida’s premier tropical resort, is normally closed for the summer, when tourists tended to avoid the entire state.

Built in 1892 and owned by railroad and real estate mogul Henry Plant, the hotel made a lot of money in the winter season. In 1898 it also made a lot of money in the summer, for war came to Tampa, and the shiny brass of the U.S. Army moved into the Tampa Bay Hotel.

The hotel’s hot, musty rooms were now full of hobnobbing newspaper reporters, harried Army staff functionaries, serious-faced senior officers, and smiling politicians, along with a few insistent wives who regretted their decision to come to Florida in early summer. As I walked through the deserted public rooms at a quarter of six that June morning, not one of them was in sight. A general atmosphere of easygoing indolence pervaded everything. The place even smelled closed for business.

As I crossed the lobby I saw one man calmly noticing everything -- Joseph Herrings. It didn’t surprise me that he was there at that hour. He might turn up anywhere, at any time. A reporter for a German-language newspaper in New York, Herrings wrote about the Army’s true military readiness and skills in articles that were disturbingly accurate. He cast a knowing smirk toward me before looking down and scratching something in his notepad.

My footsteps echoed loudly on the polished floor of the empty hallway leading to the Army staff offices. With every step my anger increased.

The hotel was headquarters for an entire Army corps about to embark on a large-scale seaborne invasion of enemy territory -- the first for the U.S. Army since the Mexican-American War half a century earlier. The lives of 17,000 American soldiers -- and more important, my life -- depended on what the various generals inside that hotel decided, if and when they ever got around to it.

I strode past the drowsy sentry, a less than impressive volunteer from Illinois, and entered the anteroom of the commanding general’s office. I found it silent, too. Only one man was in sight, a smooth-faced lieutenant who seemed startled by my intrusion. He also appeared to have just arrived and was setting a glass of tea down on his desk. The ice shavings in it were an extravagance for which the resort was famous. Savor it now, son, I thought, for there won’t be any ice in Cuba.

A pair of electric lamps illuminated the mixture of curiosity and pity on the lieutenant’s face as he stood to greet me. Naval officers are rarely seen inside Army staff offices. But by the way he was studying me, especially the fresh scars on my face, I could tell I was no stranger to him. His manner indicated he’d seen me around the hotel while I’d been recovering from my wounds, though I’d tried to stay at the other end of the huge place. No doubt he’d heard the rumors about my ill-fated mission inside Cuba in late April. I could also tell that he probably had heard the rumor about where I was heading next; thus the pity.

The lieutenant quickly assumed a neutral expression. “Good morning, Captain Wake. I’m First Lieutenant Buford of the general’s staff. We’re honored you have officially joined us this morning, sir.” No more than two years out of West Point, I guessed. The shiny new aide-de-camp aiguillette braid on the left shoulder of Buford’s immaculate uniform matched his gleaming silver rank insignia; wartime sped up the promotion system in both the Army and the Navy. I wondered if Buford ever visited his academy classmates sweltering in tents not a quarter mile away.

“Thank you, Lieutenant. I was told to be here at six for the chief of staff. I am a bit early, but it looks like the place hasn’t yet opened up for the day. Is he around here somewhere?”

Buford caught my sarcasm. “Oh, we’re open, sir. The rest of the staff will be arriving any minute. The chief of staff was looking forward to discussing the military situation in Cuba with you this morning, sir, but he’s been called away on an important training issue in one of the regimental camps and doesn’t know when he can get back. General Shafter will be here in a few minutes, though, and I know he also wanted to see you this morning.”

He said it effortlessly, a very smooth lie. He followed with a reassuring smile to indicate all was well. I began to dislike First Lieutenant Buford. I knew his type. We had them in the Navy, too. They go far in their career without ever hearing a shot or making a deadly decision.

A training issue in one of the camps that requires a senior officer to solve? I knew better. The embarrassing fact was that there had been a drunken riot among some of the volunteer soldiers, barely quelled only a few hours before.

Buford gestured to a row of plush-looking red leather chairs near a potted areca palm. Having Army headquarters in a luxury hotel had its benefits.

“If you could wait here for the general, sir. It won’t be long. Coffee, sir?”

“Thank you, Lieutenant,” I replied as I settled into a chair and considered his adroit detour around the actual reason for the “important training issue.”

Prostitutes had been found inside the tents of a newly recruited New York infantry regiment camped in the pine woods west of town. When the regiment’s officers told the women to leave, the drunken soldiers suggested it was the officers who should leave. The confrontation went from insubordinate words to physical threats in seconds. It ended only with the desperate colonel’s warning that he would bring in another regiment to kill the mutineers.

I’d heard all about it from a waiter serving me coffee thirty minutes earlier in the hotel’s kitchen. He’d learned it from an exasperated messenger who was searching for an officer at headquarters to receive the regimental commander’s request for help. The waiter thought it all quite funny. I thought it pathetic and wondered what the press would think of it when they arrived for their leisurely breakfast at the dining room in three hours or so. By noon the New York papers would have it via the wires. Then I thought of that smirk on Joseph Herrings’ face and corrected my estimate. Maybe before noon.

The smiling lieutenant brought me a cup of very good Cuban coffee, some of the last brought in from the island before war was declared. He assured me we’d soon have much more of the stuff once we kicked those “cowardly little spics” off the island and took it over once and for all.

I merely nodded as I considered what an excellent target Buford’s shiny shoulder braid would make for one of the “little spics” in the Spanish army.

Robert N. Macomber has been the recipient of the Patrick D. Smith Literary Award, the American Library Association’s W.Y. Boyd Literary Award, a Silver Medal in Popular Fiction from the Florida Book Awards, and a host of other accolades over two decades. He has earned rare experiences like being Distinguished Lecturer at NATO HQs [Belgium], and, for ten years, was invited into the Distinguished Military Author Series, Center for Army Analysis [Ft. Belvoir]. Learn more at
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