|View single post by amhistoryguy|
|Posted: Fri Dec 29th, 2006 08:43 pm||
|Ballooning began in 1783, when two French brothers,
Etienne and Joseph Montgolfier launched a hot air filled,
33 foot diameter "paper bag," to an altitude of 1000
feet. Soon after, Jacques Alexander Cesar Charles
continued with experiments using hydrogen gas. Silk,
coated in natural gum rubber in linseed oil, replaced the
paper bag. "The Globe," unmanned, was launched in Paris
and reached at least 2000 feet. To demonstrate that
the atmosphere was safe, a sheep, a duck and a rooster
were sent aloft later that year.
The first flight of a human areonaut took place in Paris,
when Jean-Francois Pilatre de Rozier made several
tethered flights. On November 21, 1783, Rozier made
the first un-tethered balloon ascent.
Rozier and a passenger were also the first air fatalities,
when in June of 1785, while attempting to cross the English
Channel, his hydrogen filled balloon ignited while at 3000
In the United States, a number of individuals began to
experiment with ballooning. In 1785, the study of aeronautics
was initiated at the College of William and Mary at the urging
of Thomas Jefferson. A "Balloon Club" was formed.
The French were the first to consider a military application.
They formed the first balloon corps. in 1794. The aerostiers
participated as observers for the French at the battle of Fleurs,
staying in the air for 10 hours.
The first ascent in the United States took place in Philadelphia
on January 9, 1793, by Frenchman Pierre Blanchard. In 1840,
Secretary of War Joel Poinsett proposed using balloons in Florida
against the Indians. His idea was not acted upon. During the war
with Mexico, John Wise suggested a bombardment of the fortress
at Vera Cruz by balloon, but, again, nothing came of the idea.
In June of 1861, Wise did begin construction of a balloon for the
United States Army. The basket of the craft had an armor plated
bottom to withstand enemy small arms fire.
After two disastrous mishaps handling the balloon, and before it
could be used, the idea was shelved.
Already an accomplished balloonist, Thaddeus Lowe offered
his service to the Union. On June 18, 1861, he transmitted the first
air to ground telegraph message from his balloon "Enterprise,"
tethered at 500 feet above Washington. Here is the message he sent;
June 18, 1861
To the President of the United States
This point of observation commands an area nearly fifty miles in
diameter. The city, with its girdle of encampments, presents a
superb scene. I take great pleasure in sending you this first dispatch
ever telegraphed from an aerial station, and in acknowledging my
indebtedness to your encouragement for the opportunity of
demonstrating the availability of the science of aeronautics in the
military service of the country.
T. S. C. Lowe
Given $150 for gas and fifteen men from the 8th New York
Infantry, only four days later Lowe and Enterprise were sent
to join McDowell at Arlington, Virginia.
While Lowe stressed the advantage of aerial observation
and recon, other applications were discovered when Major
Leyard Colburn of the 2nd Connecticut went up with Lowe in order
to make maps.
On July 24, 1861, Lowe flew the first recon mission, un-tethered
at an altitude of about 18,000 feet. On that mission he also became
the first aviator subjected to "friendly fire." Lowe came down about
2.5 miles behind enemy lines and was rescued by the 31st New York
Infantry, although there is a story that it was his wife who drove
a team to rescue him.
Newly formed, by 1862 the United States Balloon Corps had several
balloons. The "Enterprise," "Eagle," "Constitution," "Washington,"
"Intrepid," Lowe's search for pilots, "chief aeronauts" as Lowe
referred to them, led him to men like, John Steiner, James Allen,
Another first took place on August 29, 1961, when Confederates,
tired of ineffective small arms firing, trained a rifled cannon on the
balloon "Union," operating near Fort Corcoran, Virginia. This first
anti-aircraft fire missed its mark.
The U. S. Balloon Corps served on the Mississippi River, Port Royal,
and during the Peninsular Campaign. At Fair Oaks, Lowe identified a
movement thought by those on the ground as a feint, to be a major
attack. The message Lowe telegraphed allowed troops to be sent
to meet the attack and turn it back.
Along with the Balloon Corps came the first air craft carrier.
John LaMountain operated two balloons off of a transport vessel
U. S. S. Fanny. LaMountain's first flight from the ship was on
August 3, 1861, opposite Sewall Point, Virgina. He was able to
detect and sketch Confederate fortifications that had not been
The first aerial observation directing artillery fire took place
September 24, 1861 when Thaddeus Lowe directed guns at Chain
Bridge, Virginia, to fire upon Confederate positions at Falls Church.
Range and deflection were related by telegraph. This type of direction
was also used at Island No. 10.
Despite the successes and the huge potential that had been
demonstrated, the Balloon Corp had serious problems. Lowe and
his aeronauts were civilians. Even though aiding the military, they
were poorly treated, and even mistreated. Captain Cyrus Comstock
was appointed to head the Corps. He reduced the pay of a chief
aeronaut from $10 per day to $6 per day. Good pay of course, yet
as civilians, Lowe and his men were risking capture as spies every
time they went up. Disgusted with additional red tape, the firing of
his father from the ground crew, and the insults he and his group
were subjected to, Lowe resigned in May of 1863. The U. S. Balloon
Corp was officially disbanded the next month.
One of the biggest compliments the Balloon Corp could have
received, came from Gen. Longstreet, who said, "We were longing
for the balloons that poverty denied us."
There were a couple of attempts to get Confederate balloons in
the air. John Bryan, under the direction of Gen. John B. Magruder
briefly used a hot air balloon at the Peninsula. Langdon Cheves
built a balloon at his own expense from imported silk dresses.
Operating at Gaines' Mill, another aviation first, as Cheves observed
for the Confederacy, Lowe was, at the same time, observing for the
Union. The first time opposing armies utilized air craft. Cheves even
had his balloon tied to the tugboat "Teaser" making it sort of
a Confederate aircraft carrier. The tug towed the balloon above the
James River. Just below Malvern Hill the tug ran aground and the tug,
and balloon were captured by the Union Gun boat "Maritanza."
Another first, the first capture of an aircraft, and an aircraft carrier.
As if you don't have enough "stuff" to read, if you are interested
in CW ballooning you might want to look for these;
A chapter dedicated to ballooning in "Civil War Firsts," by
Gerald Henig & Eric Niderost.
"The Aeronauts, A History of Ballooning 1783-1903," by
L. T. Rolt
"War of the Aeronauts," by
"Military Ballooning During the Early Civil War," by
F. Stansbury Haydon
"The Romance of Ballooning, the Story of Early Aeronauts," by
"The Eagle Aloft," by
"Above the Civil War, the Story of Thaddeus Lowe," by
An interesting mix of science and the military.
Regards, Dave Gorski