A “Trailblazer” in the Sky: Thaddeus Lowe and “Spy Balloons”

This is an excerpt of another item in my book, Civil War Trailblazers and Troublemakers.”   The subject is Thaddeus Lowe and the incredible loss by the Union in essentially throwing away the ability to observe the Confederates from the sky.  You can read the entire item and 49 more by getting the book at: https://www.amazon.com/-/e/B00HV4SSWK

“Thaddeus Lowe, a self-taught scientist and inventor, was one of several young Americans who had been experimenting with balloon travel in the 1850’s.  When the Civil War began, he used influential friends to contact Secretary of the Treasury Salmon Chase to suggest that observation balloons be used by the army.  In a June 1861 experiment his balloon “Enterprise” not only observed Washington from 500 feet, but also transmitted a telegraphed message using wires strung to the ground.  Lincoln was convinced of its value…

Despite his successes early in the war, Lowe was beset by attacks from rival aeronauts and bureaucratic military men intent on saving money.  Also, he apparently had not convinced an apparently-sympathetic George McClellan of the efficacy of balloons.  In a letter to his wife in April 1862, McClellan noted that his colleague General Fitz-John Porter had gone up in a balloon and had almost landed behind enemy lines.  McClellan wrote, “You may rest assured of one thing: you won’t catch me in the confounded balloon nor will I allow any other Generals to go up in it!”  A downtrodden Lowe said of this experience, “I found it difficult for a time to restore confidence among the officers as to the safety of this means of observation on account of this accident.”

Later, disgusted by the lack of support, Lowe resigned in May 1863.  The Balloon Corps was disbanded that August, this potentially-valuable asset figuratively put into the Orwellian memory hole.”

Below is a portrait of Lowe and of the book:

50 men and women who inalterably changed the civil war era02988v

 

Author: geneofva

Author of "Citizen-General: Jacob Dolson Cox and the Civil War Era," and of the upcoming "Lincoln, Antietam, and a Northern Lost Cause."

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