- Once upon a time, an academic was writing a book about war in the days of smoothbore muskets. Normally, academics at that time just wrote about what generals said or did, and described what happened in a battle in very "general"(sorry for the pun) terms.
This academic had a good idea, however. He knew in a "general" [sorry, I'll stop] sort of way that muskets were slow to load. He thought he'd enlighten his readers by actually describing the multitude of moves necessary.
So he wrote up a description.
Problem was, he "shagged-up"[lady on the list, now, lads!]. In his description, he somehow got the idea that when the cartridge was bitten, the soldier kept the musket ball in his mouth i.e. he mistakenly had the soldier biting the wrong end! Now, he had to have the soldier somehow get the musket ball from his mouth in to the barrel. So he figured the soldier had to spit it down.
And academics forever more, doing their research, followed the lead of our mistaken academic, or the later "disciples" of our mistaken academic...
And one day, Bernard Cornwell was writing a novel, and he went to his favourite secondary sources, and they told him soldiers spit the musket ball down the barrel.
And none of the people who followed the original academic's lead ever thought to question it, or check what the regulations and drill books said. Or used their common sense.
All of which goes to show that we should always be on our toes to not blindy follow what turns out to be shoddy research.
One of these days, it would be fun to get in to a really good library and by following books back through their cited sources, find out who the idiot was who made "the mistake" originally. This could make a very funny article!