The Civil War, Day by Day

Thaddeus Lowe Demonstrates the Hot Air Balloon

Thaddeus Lowe Demonstrates the Hot Air Balloon

Accompanied by a telegraph operator, Lowe sent Lincoln the “first dispatch ever telegraphed from an aerial station.” Through this unique mode of travel, Lowe proved invaluable to the Union by determining the Confederates’ positions - as well as the direction of their gunfire - during the Civil War.

Before the war began, Lowe had planned to cross the Atlantic Ocean by balloon. However, he opted instead to assist in the Union cause. In April, 1861, Lowe took a practice run from Cinncinnati and ended up in the South, where he learned of Tennessee’s decision to secede - and was the first to inform Lincoln of this development.

After Lincoln saw Lowe’s demonstration, he convinced a reluctant General Winfield Scott to use the balloonist’s services. Soon Lowe was given additional balloons - including the Intrepid - and a corps of assistants. He also found a loyal companion in Brigadier General Fitz John Porter - who traveled with him many times and attempted a solo flight during the Siege of Yorktown.

Unfortunately, Lowe was unappreciated by most Union military personnel. His corps was never given official status, and was often deprived of food and other provisions. However, future wars were to benefit from Lowe’s unswerving conviction that air power was a vital asset to military strategy.

July's Archived Features:

Friday July 1, 2022



All illustrations by Mort Künstler. Text by Michael Aubrecht, Dee Brown, Henry Steele Commager, Rod Gragg, Mort Künstler, Edward Lengel, James McPherson, and James I. Robertson, Jr. - Copyright © 2001-2019. All Rights Reserved. No part of the contents of this web site may be reproduced or utilized in any form by any means without written consent of the artist.