Aug 2, 2011

Up in the Air: The turbulent history of Civil War ballooning

(NYTimes) The first manned balloon flight took place in France during the early 1780s and, not surprisingly, people began thinking of how to turn the balloon into an implement of war. Within a few years, the French army was using observation balloons in battle, and Benjamin Franklin even suggested that balloons might actually be used to convey soldiers into the fray. In 1849 the Austrian high command sent some 200 unmanned balloons, laden with timed explosives, over Venice. Unfortunately, the wind shifted, carrying them back over the hapless Austrians.
Ballooning caught on in the United States as well, and by the beginning of the Civil War there were several budding “aeronauts,” as the balloonists styled themselves, anxious to place their crafts and skill at the disposal of the Federal forces, including an ambitious and highly capable young New Englander named Thaddeus Sobieski Constantine Lowe. Continued

Check out our article on World War One balloons: My Dutiful Balloon: Precarious reconnaissance in The Great War