| Posted: Fri Dec 29th, 2006 09:43 pm
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|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
| Posted: Sat Dec 30th, 2006 01:15 am
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|There is a couple here in Southern California who represent Thaddeus Lowe and his wife reenactments. Mt. Lowe is right above Pasadena named for Thaddeus. So there is a California Conection
| Posted: Sat Dec 30th, 2006 04:09 am
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|Yes, Lowe has a very prominent California connection.
Lowe moved to L. A. in 1887 and to Pasadena in 1890. He founded the Citizens Bank of L. A., and had a massive 24,000 square foot home in Pasadena. In 1891, he and partner David McPherson incorporated a scenic RR, the Pasadena & Mt. Wilson RR. It went to the base of what was then Mt. Oak. The name of the mountain was changed to Mt. Lowe in honor of Thaddeus as you mentioned. Some folks also claim that Lowe was the first white man to the summit of the 5,603 ft. peak, where he planted an American flag. The truth of that is disputed by some, but in any event Lowe's acquaintance with Andrew McNally of map making note, insured that the mountain would carry Lowe's name.
Lowe died January 16, 1913, and is buried at Mountain View Cemetery in Altadena, California.
Regards, Dave Gorski
| Posted: Sat Dec 30th, 2006 04:39 am
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|Yep that is true. We have many Civil War connectons here in Southern California .
| Posted: Thu Aug 19th, 2010 05:49 am
Root Beer Lover
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|Ok, here's my question. What was the first aircraft carrier? I've read the Fanny as mentioned here. But I've also read the George Washington Parke Custis was the first. And the Hampton Roads Naval Museum has a model (or at least it had one in April of 2007) of the latter specifying it as the first.
| Posted: Thu Aug 19th, 2010 10:57 am
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That all depends on your definition of what an aircraft carrier is. If an aircraft is any device that travels through the air, it would seem that a hot air balloon qualifies as an aircraft. If you're going to consider a ship or a barge that launches a tethered balloon an aircraft carrier, then the nod goes to the FANNY (03 August 1861) over the GEORGE WASHINGTON PARKE CUSTIS (10November 1861).
US Aircraft Carriers -The Forerunners
I have to wonder what the argument was that was given for calling the CUSTIS the first. I suppose it was that the FANNY was a transport that remained a transport, while the CUSTIS was a coal barge that was specifically modified so that its purpose was to launch balloons.
If you're going to limit the argument to actual airplanes, then you can still have a debate about what ship should be considered the first. An airplane was launched from a wooden platform on the cruiser BIRMINGHAM on 24November 1910, but it landed elsewhere. An airplane landed on a platform built on the cruiser PENNSYLVANIA on 18January 1911.
The first US ship (The Brits were earlier with HMS ARGUS) that would be recognized as a true aircraft carrier was the converted collier LANGLEY which began its life in that role 20March 1922.
Acraft Carrier History (The Early Years)
The LANGLEY continued in its new role until 1936, when it was converted again into a seaplane tender. It was destroyed by the Japanese on 27February 1942.
USN Ships--USS Langley (CV-1, later AV-3)
Last edited on Thu Aug 19th, 2010 11:59 am by Texas Defender
| Posted: Fri Aug 20th, 2010 07:03 am
Root Beer Lover
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|As balloons, blimps, derigibles and gliders are labeled as lighter than air aircraft and airplanes and helicopters are labeled as heavier than air aircraft, it would seem to me the definition of an aircraft is any man made object designed to travel through the air but not capable of reaching space (the X-15 is in a shaddy area in that regard as it could reach the edge of space but most of it's flights don't qualify as space flights).
The first link you gave, TD (apologies if you don't want your screen name abbreviated) says that La Mountain made his first flight while his ballon was secured to the stern of the Fanny, not that he did or did not launch from the Fanny. So that seems to leave open whether he launched from the shore and secured himself to the Fanny for whatever reason (perhaps he intended to be towed) or if he did what makes more sense and launched from it. La Mountain and Lowe were experinced balloonists, so it makes sense that he wouldn't just say "I need something heavy to tie my balloon too so I guess I'll use a transport." I would have to believe he'd know how to secure it and would just think about using Fanny as a transport and a possible launch platform. Then of course once in the air he could alwasy have Fanny move him about.
But this still brings up the question of why would the George Washington Parke Custis be considered over the Fanny. I finally did what I should have when I posted my question and grabbed some items. Namely I hit Haze Gray and Underway in order to check out DANFS. The DANFS entry says the same about the George Washington Parke Custis as the NavSource (expectedly because NavSource used DANFS) I also grabbed Burke Davis' The Civil War: Strange & Fascinating Facts. Now Davis states that Fanny was the first aircraft carrier, but he then goes on to call the George Washingtion Parke Custis the first true aircraft carrier. He states she was converted to Lowes' design for efficient ascensions.
So that may be the answer. Conversion. AC-3 Jupiter was laid down as a collier in 1911 and served as such until she was decommisioned in 1920 so she could be converted, renamed, and reclassified CV-1 Langley. From the sounds of what you found and what's in Davis' book, it may be a question of being converted to the purpose of carrying and launching aircraft rather than just being used for the purpose. It does seem like Fanny remained a transport where as George Washington Parke Custis was converted from bein a coal barge to the sole purpose of launching and operating observation balloons.
| Posted: Fri Aug 20th, 2010 02:24 pm
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We're in agreement that the argument for the CUSTIS being the "First aircraft carrier" was probably that the barge was CONVERTED so that its main purpose was to launch balloons. Whether that is a valid argument or not, I suppose, is a matter of opinion.
As for the flight of John LaMountain's balloon from the FANNY, the question you advance is whether LaMountain launched from the FANNY or from somewhere else.
To me, it seems much more reasonable that the balloon was launched from the stern of the FANNY than from elsewhere. (It possibly could have been inflated elsewhere and then tied down on the stern of the ship, but that to me is doubtful.). I can't imagine LaMountain being launched elsewhere and flying over the FANNY, dropping a line, and saying: "Tie this to your boat." I have read that LaMountain ascended as high as 2000 feet that day, and it seems logical that he was originally tethered to the FANNY.
To support this position, I would point out on the "L" page of : "Whos Who in Ballooning,"when you look at the entry for John LaMountain, it says for 03August 1861:
Who's Who of Ballooning - Index
"Epic Ascent 3Aug.1861 from the deck of a MOVING SHIP (USS FANNY) on the Potomac River, Opposite the Washington capital."
If you look at the Fiddler'sGreen site in the section: "Balloons Go to War," it says of LaMountain:
Lowe Civil War Balloon | Aircraft | 3 FREE MODELS when you sign up with Fiddlersgreen
"A week later, he took his balloon on the armed transport FANNY on a sortie up the James River." That to me indicates that the balloon (Whether inflated or not) was tethered to the FANNY initially.
Its interesting to read how LaMountain used the prevailing winds at ground level and higher to go west and east to fly over Confederate lines and return safely by ascending to higher altitudes. He was a very brave man. If captured, he probably would have been executed.
Both John LaMountain and Thaddeus Lowe were eccentric characters. Apparently, Lowe had better backers and more friends in high places, and LaMountain was even more difficult to get along with, so their feud was finally settled by General McClellan, who dismissed LaMountain in 1862. Nevertheless, in my view, to dismiss John LaMountain's flights from the FANNY on 03August 1861 and call the CUSTIS the: "First aircraft carrier" is to deny him his rightful place in history.
Last edited on Fri Aug 20th, 2010 02:53 pm by Texas Defender
| Posted: Sat Aug 21st, 2010 03:29 am
Root Beer Lover
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|Ok, that's what all the above stuff didn't really have. Thanks.
And I do agree it makes more sense to have launched from the stern of the Fanny, but everything was just saying attached to the Fanny. To me attached could either mean he launched from the stern and kept attached to the transport so as not to be blown away or he launched from elsewhere but attached to Fanny for some other reason.
| Posted: Mon Jun 13th, 2011 10:47 am