The self-taught scientist Thaddeus Lowe pioneered their use, and 150 years ago this month the U.S. Army Balloon Corps performed admirably during battles in Virginia. This week our Newspaper Sunday feature takes a look at how newspapers covered Professor Lowe and the Civil War's "aeronauts."
- The National Republican, June 21, 1861: A report describing how Prof. Lowe ascended in a balloon from the White House lawn and observed rebel troops far across the Potomac in Virginia. President Lincoln, impressed by such demonstrations, authorized the use of military balloons.
- New York Tribune, April 15, 1862: A report about General Fitz-John Porter, who, at the front in Virginia, ascended in one of Lowe's balloons and was nearly lost when the rope broke and he floated over Confederate lines.
- Memphis Daily Appeal, April 27, 1862: A more vivid and detailed account of General Porter's wild ride in a balloon.
- New York Tribune, June 2, 1862: A battle was viewed from 2,000 feet in the air: "Every movement of the enemy was obvious, and instantly reported. This is believed to be the first time in which a balloon reconnaissance has been successfully made during a battle..."
- Memphis Daily Appeal, June 24, 1862: A very detailed letter from an observer who was in the balloon basket with Professor Lowe observing combat in Virginia on June 1, 1862.
Despite the obvious usefulness of balloons, the Army stopped using them. And by the fall of 1862 only passing mentions of military balloons appeared in newspapers. The U.S. Army Balloon Corps was disbanded the following year. Could the observation balloons have made a difference at later battles, such as Gettysburg? We will never know.
Note: after visiting the links to the newspaper articles, use the "persistent link" on the excerpt page to view the entire page of the newspaper at the Chronicling America site of the Library of Congress.
Illustration: Civil War observation balloon/Library of Congress
Connect on Facebook: AboutHistory1800s
Follow on Twitter: @History1800s