Promoting the books of historians at University of Arkansas Press was one of the great pleasures of working there. Working with colleagues trained in history was an even greater pleasure. Kevin Brock, then the acquisitions editor, pointed out the passage below. We both latched onto it with glee, but with very different reactions. This is from W. H. Tunnard’s A Southern Record: The History of the Third Regiment Louisiana Infantry. Tunnard served among the Confederates at Wilson’s Creek, and this passage describes activity while advancing on Springfield, Missouri, from Cassville.
The next day was the Sabbath, bright, beautiful and golden. All remained quiet until early noon, when a balloon was discovered hovering over our camp, which sailed eastward in the direction of the enemy. All was bustle and activity, as the troops rapidly assembled in their respective quarters. A report soon prevailed that the enemy had penetrated the left of our position, and the balloon was a preconcerted signal for an advance…. It proved a false rumor, and the army reposed in security and quietude.”
Kevin and I knew of no balloon corps attached to any army in the Ozarks. So what was this thing? Tunnard, an observant narrator of anecdotes and antics as well as battles he witnessed, is no glory-monger, and did not fabricate. So what in the world? A balloon? Kevin was excited—it smelled of a good article for a quarterly; where was the corroboration, he wondered? He described where he was headed next to find out if any other accounts contained this floating mystery. And it struck me how much more complicated the historian’s work must be.
Work swept us away from this weird nugget—we had to edit and sell the book after all! But now I’m asking, Kevin, what came of this? I never did work it into my novel; it’s cool, but it didn’t fit. Still, without corroboration, the fiction writer could launch the airship at any time. Kevin? What did the historian do?