While writing an article on the Revolutionary War, I wrote that Casimir Pulaski was killed in battle outside of Charleston, relying on a passage from a well-regarded book. However, a careful reader challenged me by stating that Pulaski was actually killed outside of Savannah. Of course he was right!
This experience demonstrates the need to double check your facts. This is true even when citing the most eminent historians. An example is found in Britisher Piers Mackesy’s highly acclaimed account of the American War of Independence. In the section describing the 1776 conflict in the Lake Champlain region, Mackesy mistakenly asserts that Thaddeus Kosciuszko, the Polish born military engineer, helped strengthen the 1776 defenses at Fort Ticonderoga and Mount Independence. This is not true.¹ Coming to America in the summer of 1776, Koscuiszko initially assisted in building fortifications along the Delaware River protecting Philadephia. He did not travel to Fort Ticonderoga until the following year.² For information on the contruction history of the Fort Ticonderoga and Mount Independence fortifications, see an excellent new book Strong Ground.³
However, this one error does not detract from Mackesy’s overall thesis and his book is a wonderful reference for military and political strategic decision making by British military leaders and politicians. Mackesy’s analysis even resonates with today’s leaders. See A review in the Washington Post by Thomas Ricks who cites insights from Mackesy’s book to interpret the contemporary conflict in Iraq.
What this example does point out is that researchers should take special care to double check facts they cite, even from the most eminent of historians.