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Balloons in the American Civil War Both the Union and Confederate armies used balloons for reconnaissance during the American Civil War, marking the first time that balloons were used in the United States for reconnaissance. The professional aeronaut John Wise was the first to receive orders to build a balloon for the Union army. However, the balloon never was used because it escaped its tethers and was shot down to prevent it from falling into Confederate hands. Thaddeus Lowe and John LaMountain both carried out reconnaissance activities for the Union army during the war. Lowe had foreseen the usefulness of balloon observations when he had accidentally landed in South Carolina on a flight from Cincinnati, Ohio, to the Atlantic Ocean in April 1861. Inflation of the balloon Intrepid to reconnoitre the Battle of Fair Oaks, 1862 One of his financial supporters, Murat Halstead, editor of the Cincinnati Daily Commercial, wrote to U.S. Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase and suggested that the United States establish a balloon corps under Lowe's command. This corps would provide aerial reconnaissance for the Union armies. Secretary Chase arranged a meeting between Lowe and President Abraham Lincoln for June 11, 1861. On July 17, 1861, Lowe demonstrated his ideas for balloon reconnaissance and also for sending telegrams from the balloon to the commanders below. He used the Enterprise, attached to tethers and floating 500 feet (152 meters) above Washington, D.C. President Lincoln was duly impressed. Later that summer, President Lincoln established the Balloon Corps, a civilian organization under the authority of the Union's Bureau of Topographical Engineers, and granted Lowe permission to requisition equipment and personnel. Lowe received funds to build a balloon on August 2, 1861. The first U.S. balloon designed for military use, the Union, was ready for action on August 28. Because he was forced to inflate the balloon with gas from municipal lines in Washington, D.C (he had not received his funds yet for a portable gas generator), the balloon could not be moved far, which limited operations to the Washington, DC, area. On September 24, 1861, Lowe ascended to more than 1,000 feet (305 meters) near Arlington, Virginia, across the Potomac River from Washington, DC, and began telegraphing intelligence on the Confederate troops located at Falls Church, Virginia, more than three miles (4.8 kilometres) away. Union guns were aimed and fired accurately at the Confederate troops without actually being able to see them—a first in the history of warfare. This triumph led the Secretary of War Simon Cameron to direct Lowe to build four additional balloons. Two more followed shortly. The fleet now consisted of the Intrepid, Constitution, United States, Washington, Eagle, Excelsior, and the original Union. The balloons ranged in size from 32,000 cubic feet (906 cubic meters) down to 15,000 cubic feet (425 cubic meters). Each had enough cable to climb 5,000 feet (1524 meters). Thaddeus S. Lowe observing the battle from his balloon Intrepid At the same time, fellow aeronaut John LaMountain was also attempting to provide balloon services for the Union. He wrote to Secretary Cameron in 1861, but, because he had no influential backers, LaMountain did not receive a reply. However, the commander of the Union Forces at Fort Monroe, Major General Benjamin F. Butler, contacted him and asked for a demonstration. Using the Atlantic, which he had used to attempt to reach the Atlantic Ocean earlier, he made two successful ascents at Fort Monroe in July 1861. The New York Times reported that LaMountain could view the Confederate encampments beyond Newmarket Bridge, Virginia, and also at the James River north of Newport News. LaMountain had actually made the first aerial reconnaissance of the Civil War and also was the first to gather intelligence by free balloon flight rather than from a tethered balloon. LaMountain, however, did not have the Union Army behind him, and he had difficulty obtaining equipment. He managed to obtain another balloon, the Saratoga. That balloon, however, was lost on November 16, 1861. He tried to get some of Lowe's equipment, but Lowe refused to cooperate. Each man found supporters, and the rivalry between the two grew. Finally, after accusations and hostilities on both sides, on February 19, 1862, General McClellan dismissed LaMountain from any further service to the military. Lowe continued providing tactical reports to the Union troops. He provided information during the siege of Yorktown, Virginia, and in late April 1863, at Fredericksburg, he transmitted hourly reports on Confederate movements. During the battle of Fair Oaks, Virginia, Lowe continually transmitted information on enemy troop positions. Observations made during this battle proved to be crucial to the Union victory. The presence of the balloons forced the Confederates to conceal their forces. To avoid detection, they blacked out their camps after dark and also created dummy encampments and gun emplacements, all of which took valuable time and personnel. However, the balloon corps did not last until the end of the war. General George McClellan was relieved of his command in 1863, and Captain Cyrus Comstock, who was assigned to oversee the balloon corps, cut its funding and thus its effectiveness. Lowe was also accused of financial impropriety, and his pay was reduced. Lowe resigned from the balloon corps on May 8, 1863. By August 1863, the corps had disbanded. A reconnaissance balloon is launched from the coal barge George Washington Parke Curtis, during the American Civil War As well as aerial reconnaissance and telegraphy, Lowe and LaMountain also introduced the use of aircraft carriers. Lowe directed the construction in 1861 of the first aircraft carrier, George Washington Parke Custis, a rebuilt coal barge with a flight deck superstructure. On one occasion, she towed one of Lowe's balloons for 13 miles (21 kilometres) at an altitude of 1,000 feet (305 meters) while Lowe made continuous observations. On August 3, 1861, LaMountain used the deck of the small vessel Fanny to launch an observation balloon 2,000 feet (610 meters) over the James River. He used the Union tugboat Adriatic for the same purpose. Word of the Americans' achievements even reached Europe, where the Prussian army sent Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin to learn what he could from this kind of warfare. The Civil War balloon Intrepid Some authorities claim that, although balloon observations contributed to battle victories, the Union Army's commanding generals did not use the balloon observations advantageously. Vague reports on Robert E. Lee's movements issued from the hydrogen balloon Intrepid during the 1862 Peninsula Campaign apparently served only to panic General McClellan. The general withdrew his vastly superior forces and positioned them seven miles (11 kilometres) from Richmond, Virginia, rather than attacking the sparsely defended Confederate capital and ending the war three years and tens of thousands of lives sooner. After McClellan was relieved of his command, Ulysses S. Grant took over and reorganized the Army of the Potomac. Preferring to rely more on attrition than on intelligence, he disbanded the Balloon Corps. Inflation of the balloon Intrepid to reconnoitre the Battle of Fair Oaks, 1862 The Confederate Army also formed a smaller version of the balloon corps. In the spring of 1862, Captain John Randolph Bryan offered to oversee the building and deployment of an observation balloon. This balloon consisted of a cotton envelope coated with varnish. Unlike the hydrogen-filled Union balloons, it was a Montgolfiére—filled with hot air—because the Confederacy did not have the equipment for generating hydrogen in the field. The war balloon at General McDowell's headquarters preparing for a reconnaissance Bryan launched the balloon on April 13, 1862, over Yorktown, Virginia. Even though the balloon was rotating on its single tether while aloft, Bryan managed to sketch a map of Union positions. On his next flight, Bryan ended up in free flight after the tether was cut to free an entangled ground crew member. He was fired upon by Confederate troops below who thought he was the enemy, but managed to escape and land safely. The second Confederate balloon was constructed of multi-coloured silk, which gave rise to the legend that this Confederate balloon was made from silk dresses donated by the ladies of the Confederacy. Although the "Silk Dress Balloon" was constructed from dress silk, no actual dresses were sacrificed. This balloon was gas-filled in Richmond, Virginia, and carried to the field by tethering it to a locomotive. In 1862, when the battle area moved too far from the railroad, it was attached to a tugboat and carried down the James River where the tug, unfortunately, ran aground and was captured. Another "Silk Dress Balloon" was constructed and went into service at Richmond in the fall of 1862. It provided aerial observations from its post until the summer of 1863 when it escaped in a high wind and was captured by Union troops. Military balloons 1850 - 1900 In the nineteenth century, the military used balloons for three purposes. One was for aerial bombing of military targets. The second was for aerial reconnaissance by captive balloons. The third was for communications and to transport personnel, mail, and equipment. The first aerial bombing was attempted in 1849 when the Austrians launched 200 pilotless, bomb-carrying hot-air balloons against forces defending Venice. Each bomb was released by a time fuse. However, the wind sent the balloons back over the Austrian troops. This idea was abandoned until the Japanese revived it in World War II. In France and Austria, there was a brief attempt to use air-filled balloons (Montgolfiéres) during the Italian campaign of 1859, but the results were unsuccessful because the balloons would not stay aloft long enough. Improved versions of balloons were used for bombing in various colonial military campaigns, such as in the French capture of Dien Bien Phu near the Vietnam-Laos border in 1884. In the early twentieth century, the Japanese used balloons against Russian forces in Manchuria in 1904-1905, as did the Italians in Tripoli in 1911-1912. This use of balloons for bombing by the Japanese and Italians violated the 1899 Hague Peace Conference that banned the "discharge of any ...explosive from balloons." The wartime use of balloons for bombing continued into modern times. Zeppelins were effectively used during World War I. During World War II, the Japanese turned the balloon into the first intercontinental strategic weapons delivery system when they sent about 9,000 hydrogen-filled balloons to the West Coast of the United States. The second use of balloons by the military was for aerial reconnaissance, which began during the Napoleonic Wars. The U.S. military first used balloons during the American Civil War. Night departure of a balloon during the Siege of Paris, 1870 Possibly the most dramatic use of balloons in the war in Europe took place in September 1870 during the siege of Paris in the FrancoPrussian War. When Paris became completely surrounded by the Prussians, French aeronauts suggested to the head of the Post Office that balloons should be used to communicate with the outside world and with the provisional government at Tours. The Post Office accepted the suggestion, and on September 23, the professional aeronaut Jules Durouf departed from the Place St. Pierre in Montmartre in Le Neptune with 227 pounds (103 kilograms) of mail. He landed his balloon safely three hours and fifteen minutes later behind enemy lines at the Chateau de Craconville. On his way, Durouf dropped visiting cards on the enemy position as he flew above the reach of enemy guns. During the Siege of Paris in the Franco-Prussian War, 1870-1871, balloons were manufactured within railroad stations in Paris. The balloons were used to get mail and passengers out of Paris Due to the direction of the winds and the fact that balloons could not really be steered, the stream of balloons went in only one direction—out of Paris. So, a later balloon, La Ville de Florence, transported carrier pigeons as well as mail. The pigeons were used by the French to carry messages back into Paris. Since the balloons did not make their way back to Paris, the French needed more and more balloons and began a flurry of balloon building. These new balloons were built with cheap materials and were often piloted by inexperienced aeronauts. Originating from the temporarily empty railroad stations and yards, they ferried people, as well as mail and pigeons out of Paris. Some were barely able to reach a safe landing away from enemy lines. On October 7, 1870, the minister of the new French government, Léon Gambetta, made a dramatic escape from Paris by balloon, and with his chief assistant, Charles Louis de Saulces de Freycinet, established a provisional capital in the city of Tours. Because the Prussians were reputed to have a special anti-aircraft gun, the French authorities ruled that, starting in mid-November 1870, balloons must leave Paris only by night. This added new hazards for the inexperienced aeronauts. Balloons could not be controlled, and they landed at unexpected locations, sometimes with fatal results when they landed in enemy territory. On one flight, two aeronauts became lost and drifted 800 miles (1,287 kilometres) to Norway. Two other balloons were lost without a trace. Altogether, a total of 66 balloons left Paris during the siege, and 58 landed safely. They carried some 102 people, more than 500 pigeons, and five dogs, which were supposed to return to Paris carrying microfilm but who never reappeared. The balloons also delivered more than two million pieces of mail as far away as Tours, 125 miles (201 kilometres) to the southwest of Paris. The war contributions of the aeronauts led to the formation, in 1874, of a "Commission des Communications Aeriennnes." On its recommendation, a military aeronautical establishment was set up in 1877 under the direction of Charles and Paul Renard. This organization has continued to exist into modern times. Other countries followed France's example. Germany organized a Balloon Corps in 1884, and Austria followed in 1893. Russia soon opened a school for aeronautical training near St. Petersburg. In Great Britain, two officers, Captain F. Beaumont, who had served with Thaddeus Lowe's Balloon Corps in the American Civil War, and Captain G.E. Grover tried unsuccessfully to persuade the British military to recognize the military value of balloons. But the first British military balloon was not used until Captain J.L.B. Templer, an amateur aeronaut, brought his own balloon, the Crusader, to Woolwich Arsenal in 1879 along with another balloon, the Pioneer. The British began military balloon training in 1880. Members of the balloon corps were trained in free flight as well as in observations from a tethered balloon in case the tethered balloon broke away from its cables. Templer almost died in one of these free flights when the weather deteriorated, and a Member of Parliament who was on the flight did die. During this time, Templer and his associates realized that a new way of storing the hydrogen gas that filled the balloons was needed because generating the gas near the battlefield was too cumbersome and slow. Compressed cylinders for the gas were suggested, and when the problem of a gas-tight valve was solved, the cylinders came into use both in Britain and in other countries. Storage pressures increased rapidly and, by 1890, the French claimed they could inflate a small balloon in 15 minutes. Templer also recognized the need for a lighter and more impervious balloon fabric. He found a London family who had been using goldbeaters' skins (the outer layer of the intestines of an ox used by goldsmiths) for toy balloons and hired them to provide fabric to the British government. By the end of 1883, they had produced their first balloon that could lift one observer to a useful height. The balloon, the 10,000-cubic-foot (283-cubic-meter) Heron, served in South Africa. During the Boer War in South Africa, 1899-1902, a balloon is used to watch for the Boers The advances in balloon technology impressed the British military, which moved the Balloon Section to larger quarters and included it in British Army establishments. They increased the number of balloon sections, and four balloon sections participated in the South African War at the end of the nineteenth century.