Discussion Balloons and the advance in aero observation.

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major bill

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Using balloons for observation seems to have mostly been done in the first half of the Civil War. I wonder why? Although both sides used balloons but it does not appear that either side found them useful enough to continue using then throughout the entire war. I am not sure if the information the balloons gathers was not valuable or if the armies found the use of balloons to expensive for the information obtained.

I also wonder what other nations thought of the use of balloons during the Civil War? I do know Emperor Dom Pedro of Brazil asked Lowe to run Brazil's aeronautical corps during the war with Paraguay. Lowe passed but turned the offer over to the Allens who few reconnaissance missions for Brazil in 1867 and 1868.

So did European nations lean anything from the use of balloons during the American Civil War? I know Europe has used balloon before, but they should have leaned something from how balloons operated during the American Civil War.
 

Lubliner

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Jules Verne published Around the World in 80 Days in 1872, in France. Edgar Allen Poe also published an article (which was bogus) in a major American newspaper about a fabulous balloon ride, supposedly given as an interview (?)...my mind is fuzzy on the details. I had a copy of it in my short stories books, not sure where it is now. Poe was short on money. He committed a hoax on the public.
Lubliner.
 

redbob

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One of the biggest problems with Civil War era balloons was inflating them in the field, if in a city; they could often be inflated from a city's gas works but in the field was a different matter. The Union developed "Gas Generators" to be used in the field and these generators required 3300# of iron filings to be mixed with 1600# of dilute sulfuric acid for each inflation of hydrogen. Photo LoC
Hydrogen gas generators.jpg
 
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TSCLowe

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@major bill asked why the balloons only lasted half of the war . . . .

In short . . . . . they did not teach ballooning 101 at West Point and it was still new technology that President Lincoln forced on General Scott. The Aeronauts were contractors rather than absorbed into the Army as Officers withing a separate Branch like the Infantry, Artillery, Signal Corps, etc, and they bounced around like a pin ball to those who would have them. Initially they were assigned to the Topographical Engineers to help make maps, then to stations along the Potomac to provide early warning of a Confederate advance on Washington.

McClellan and his subordinates supported the balloons, however those after him were more focused on fighting the fight and keeping their jobs. Burnside was relieved after Fredericksburg and Hooker after Chancellorsville. Also remember there was a major Congressional Audit and call to cut spending where possible . . . .

The first major cutbacks came to Contractors including the Aeronauts at a time when the balloons were desperately in need of major repair or replacement after almost 3 years of heavy use in the field. Instead of reporting directly to the Commanders they supported they became subordinate to a Quartermaster Captain, Comstock, who: 1. Cut their pay in half - Lowe continued to pay the Aeronauts out of pocket at the rate he promised them when hired. 2. Fired half of the trained staff including Lowe's father Clovis stating nepotism as the reason - yet Clovis Lowe was in charge of Balloon 'Maintenance and Logistics' and after 3 years of heavy use in the field the balloons were in major need of repair or replacement. 3. Made it difficult to order supplies and equipment for basic operations as well as repair and refused requests for replacement.

Lowe gave Hooker Chancellorsville for free working without pay to show the General how the balloons could support his operations. Hooker is injured leaving no one to collect and disseminate the information provided by the Aeronauts and Lowe resigns in frustration leaving the remaining balloons in the capable hands of the Allen brothers. The Allens made several ascents after Chancellorsville, but they too resigned in frustration after a catastrophic failure while aloft in strong winds when a seam ripped from the top of the balloon to it's bottom. Without any Aeronauts left to operate them the balloons were crated and warehoused in Washington D.C. in the same row as Indiana Jones' Arc of the Covenant thus ending Balloon Operations for the Union Army.

Napoleon was the first to use balloons for aerial observation during the battle of Fleurus in 1794. Lowe and the Aeronauts he hired perfected it. Yes, other countries were watching. As you mentioned the Allen brothers successfully operated balloons for Brazil during their war with Paraguay. The first large scale use of balloons by the British occurred in 1899 when they dispatched three (3) balloon sections to Africa. The British, French, Germans and Americans used balloons in WWI as well as the beginning of WWII and we're STILL using tethered aerostats for aerial observation today for border patrol, drug interdiction, and protecting no fly zones in Iraq and Afghanistan.

NOTE: Many share the false statement that Count Ferdinand Von Zeppelin was sent to the United States specifically to observe the Union Army's Balloons . . . . Not True! While here, he did not observe a balloon until after the war when he chanced upon John Steiner, one of Lowe's Aeronauts and also a Prussian, near Saint Paul, MN. Steiner took Zeppelin on three (3) balloon flights sharing his thoughts on Military Ballooning and a ship that could travel by power through the air. The rest, as they say, is History.

Respectfully Submitted,

TSC Lowe, Aeronaut
 

TSCLowe

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Edgar Allen Poe also published an article (which was bogus) in a major American newspaper about a fabulous balloon ride, supposedly given as an interview (?)...my mind is fuzzy on the details. Poe was short on money. He committed a hoax on the public.
Lubliner.
Poe wrote and published his false story in the New York Sun in 1844.

Respectfully Submitted,

TSC Lowe, Aeronaut
 
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TSCLowe

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When Richmond fell there were still a couple of confederate balloons on one of their naval vessels hemmed in above Fort Darling.
Lubliner.
?????? Please cite your sources

The Confederates only had one (1) balloon in or near Richmond: Their second balloon, the Gazelle, also know as the "Silk Dress Balloon" (although no Southern Belle donated their dresses to make it). It made it's debut on June 24, 1862 and was captured by the crew of the USS Maratanza on July 4th after going aloft on the CSS Teaser.

CSS Teaser.jpg


Respectfully Submitted,

TSC Lowe, Aeronaut
 
Last edited:

TSCLowe

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One of the biggest problems with Civil War era balloons was inflating them in the field, if in a city; they could often be inflated from a city's gas works but in the field was a different matter. The Union developed "Gas Generators" to be used in the field and these generators required 3300# of iron filings to be mixed with 1600# of dilute sulfuric acid for each inflation of hydrogen. Photo LoC
Hydrogen Generators Brady Pic 2.jpg


The Navy Yard built twelve (12) portable Hydrogen Generators at Lowe's design and direction . . . . each requiring about 800lbs of iron shavings, 40 gallons of 'oil of vitriol', what we call sulfuric acid, lots of water to dilute the acid and cool the gas. It took about 4 hours using two generators to inflate the larger balloons: The Union, Intrepid, Constitution, and United States.

Lowe also prescribed a strict method of mixing the metal and acid together. The iron was shoveled through the metal plate on the top of the generator and the acid was poured into a copper funnel. With the tank about one-third filled with iron, five carboys of acid were first poured into the generator. This was followed by a brief waiting period that allowed the gases to expand in the tank and then three more carboys of acid were poured in. According to Lowe, the careful combination of these two elements reduced the possibility of rupturing the wooden tank from the pressure of the rapidly expanding gas.

The gas would leave the tanks and flow through a water filter (the first small box) to cool the gas as the chemical reaction between the acid and iron shavings created a lot of heat, and a lime water filter (the second small box) to take the acid out of the gas before it went into the balloon.

It was these portable hydrogen generators that helped the Aeronauts complete over 3,000 ascents for the Union Army between July 1861 and June 1863.

Respectfully Submitted,

TSC Lowe, Aeronaut
 

major bill

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View attachment 342338

The Navy Yard built twelve (12) portable Hydrogen Generators at Lowe's design and direction . . . . each requiring about 800lbs of iron shavings, 40 gallons of 'oil of vitriol', what we call sulfuric acid, lots of water to dilute the acid and cool the gas. It took about 4 hours using two generators to inflate the larger balloons: The Union, Intrepid, Constitution, and United States.

Lowe also prescribed a strict method of mixing the metal and acid together. The iron was shoveled through the metal plate on the top of the generator and the acid was poured into a copper funnel. With the tank about one-third filled with iron, five carboys of acid were first poured into the generator. This was followed by a brief waiting period that allowed the gases to expand in the tank and then three more carboys of acid were poured in. According to Lowe, the careful combination of these two elements reduced the possibility of rupturing the wooden tank from the pressure of the rapidly expanding gas.

The gas would leave the tanks and flow through a water filter (the first small box) to cool the gas as the chemical reaction between the acid and iron shavings created a lot of heat, and a lime water filter (the second small box) to take the acid out of the gas before it went into the balloon.

It was these portable hydrogen generators that helped the Aeronauts complete over 3,000 ascents for the Union Army between July 1861 and June 1863.

Respectfully Submitted,

TSC Lowe, Aeronaut
Great information. So with 3000 ascents, how many deaths and injuries? Despite many dangers, all in all, the Civil War ascents were relatively safely accomplished. This level of reasonable safety was seen even during field environment.
 
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TSCLowe

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Great information. So with 3000 ascents, how many deaths and injuries? Despite many dangers, all in all, the Civil War ascents were relatively safely accomplished. This level of reasonable safety was seen even during field environment.
Zero (0) Deaths. Zero (0) Injuries

Yes, Despite the many dangers, Civil War Balloon Operations were conducted in a safe and professional manner.

Respectfully Submitted,

TSC Lowe, Aeronaut
 

tackitt27

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Flora, IL
Im currently reading Lincoln's Spies: Their Secret War to Save a Nation. I am currently in the Gettysburg campaign portion of the book. Hooker was using balloons around Fredericksburg in May and June of 1863. He was trying to gather information the rear of Lee's army and what his plans were. The book basically tells of frustrations of not getting good information from them and not being worth the hassle. Sounds like the North didn't use them much after that summer.
 

TSCLowe

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Im currently reading Lincoln's Spies: Their Secret War to Save a Nation. I am currently in the Gettysburg campaign portion of the book. Hooker was using balloons around Fredericksburg in May and June of 1863. He was trying to gather information the rear of Lee's army and what his plans were. The book basically tells of frustrations of not getting good information from them and not being worth the hassle. Sounds like the North didn't use them much after that summer.
As the Confederates controlled much of the area South and West of the Rappahannock Balloon placement during Hooker's Command continued to be on the river's North & East side at the Phillips House (near Burnside's former HQs), South of the Phillips House, and at Banks Ford.

Chancellorsville Map.jpg


The Aeronauts and Military Observers assigned to the Balloons faced several challenges in collecting and reporting information including weather and their inability to see Confederate positions and movement under the trees that covered them 7 to 10 miles from the Balloon Camps.

Again Burnside and Hooker were more focused on fighting the fight and keeping their jobs than they were in using the balloons to their fullest capabilities.

As stated earlier in this thread, the Aeronauts resigned shortly after Chancellorsville, the balloons and supporting equipment were crated and stored in a warehouse thus ending aerial observation for the Union Army.

Respectfully Submitted,

TSC Lowe, Aeronaut
 
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Lubliner

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?????? Please cite your sources

The Confederates only had one (1) balloon in or near Richmond: Their second balloon, the Gazelle, also know as the "Silk Dress Balloon" (although no Southern Belle donated their dresses to make it). It made it's debut on June 24, 1862 and was captured by the crew of the USS Maratanza on July 4th after going aloft on the CSS Teaser.

View attachment 342332

Respectfully Submitted,

TSC Lowe, Aeronaut
Thank you for answering the vague Poe story I mentioned. The book was returned to Goodwill. On the reference source to the balloon(s) I mentioned; it may have come from E. P. Alexander's memoirs and if so I no longer have that book. But, my second guess is the O. R. which I do have, and the third would be an article from Civil War Times Illustrated, which I also have but!!! I have the set of 20 volumes with 10 magazines in each dating from 1962-1982, and numerous others from 2001 to2010. I will try my best to rediscover the information I had gathered. At this point my memory says it may have been the Chaffin's Bluff area upon a confederate vessel, when the Yankees attacked up Varina Road and New Market Heights in late Sept., 1864. If so, Richmond Redeemed by the late Richard J. Sommers would mention it, but I no longer have that book either. The episode I apparently am thinking of was a report made of seeing if they had a balloon to send up, and the response was *2 balloons on deck but equipment faulty* (??) and one was made with rubber coating such as rain gear. I will see what I can find and return with what I hope supports my memory. Have you ever heard of the event I mention with a rubber coated balloon?
Lubliner.
 

JPK Huson 1863

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Carry on! I love balloon threads. Did not know Poe wrote a faux account. Maybe he thought he'd witnessed it? I mean, it's Poe.

There are more than a few accounts of someone witnessing flight- literally found one last night. It's awesome, some fellow ascending via kite, like hang gliding behind galloping horses, tossed his parachute away, flapped wings and flew. Guessing Poe had company. I don't know, the 1865 article out invents Poe.

This isn't the one, it's just wonderful.
balloon wings.jpg
 

TSCLowe

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The episode I apparently am thinking of was a report made of seeing if they had a balloon to send up, and the response was *2 balloons on deck but equipment faulty* (??)
On the 4th of July 1862 the Gazelle inflated at the Richmond Gas Works and made several ascents along the James River from the deck of the CSS Teaser. At 7,500 cubic feet of volume it was half the size of the Union's smallest balloons and because it was built by a businessman from Savannah, Georga, not by a balloonist experienced in building balloons, it would only carry one person aloft, leaked like a sieve and would not stay aloft very long. E.P. Alexander was the observer who went aloft that day hence the mention in his memoirs.

From the book "A Chronicle of Civil War Hampton Virginia" by Alice Matthews Erickson: "The balloon was very week, however, and came down after a short time. It was folded on the deck of the tugboat CSS Teaser, and the crew started to return to Richmond when the boat ran aground on a mud flat in the James River. At that time, a Union gunboat appeared and the small boat was trapped. When the crew jumped overboard and waded to shore to evade capture, the balloon with all it's equipment was confiscated. "With the capture of the Gazelle, balloon operations for the South were over. For all that mattered, the Confederate air force and the future of any balloon activities for the remainder of the war were now in the hands of the Yankees."


You also mentioned "and one was made with rubber coating such as rain gear. Have you ever heard of the event I mention with a rubber coated balloon?"

There is no record of rubber coated balloons used during the Civil War by either side.

To make the balloon air tight and to protect it from the weather most balloonists of the time had their own formula of 'varnish' made from raw linseed oil, benzine, and japan drier. They applied multiple coats of 'varnish' to the outside of the balloon and then applied several coats of neats foot oil to help keep the fabric soft and pliable.

Respectfully Submitted,

TSC Lowe, Aeronaut
 
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Lubliner

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On the 4th of July 1862 the Gazelle inflated at the Richmond Gas Works and made several ascents along the James River from the deck of the CSS Teaser. At 7,500 cubic feet of volume it was half the size of the Union's smallest balloons and because it was built by a businessman from Savannah, Georga, not by a balloonist experienced in building balloons, it would only carry one person aloft, leaked like a sieve and would not stay aloft very long. E.P. Alexander was the observer who went aloft that day hence the mention in his memoirs.

From the book "A Chronicle of Civil War Hampton Virginia" by Alice Matthews Erickson: "The balloon was very week, however, and came down after a short time. It was folded on the deck of the tugboat CSS Teaser, and the crew started to return to Richmond when the boat ran aground on a mud flat in the James River. At that time, a Union gunboat appeared and the small boat was trapped. When the crew jumped overboard and waded to shore to evade capture, the balloon with all it's equipment was confiscated. "With the capture of the Gazelle, balloon operations for the South were over. For all that mattered, the Confederate air force and the future of any balloon activities for the remainder of the war were now in the hands of the Yankees."


You also mentioned "and one was made with rubber coating such as rain gear. Have you ever heard of the event I mention with a rubber coated balloon?"

There is no record of rubber coated balloons used during the Civil War by either side.

To make the balloon air tight and to protect it from the weather most balloonists of the time had their own formula of 'varnish' made from raw linseed oil, benzine, and japan drier. They applied multiple coats of 'varnish' to the outside of the balloon and then applied several coats of neats foot oil to help keep the fabric soft and pliable.

Respectfully Submitted,

TSC Lowe, Aeronaut
Thank you for your excellent reply. The futility I would have suffered searching high and low; well, you know! These are the types of responses that are especially enlightening, not that they curtail my own search, but due to the knowledge held within. I can assure you even on futile searches I can discover several new facts I had either forgotten, or had overlooked. I try not to rely on memory alone for the obvious reason of the amount of literature perused in 30 years time, and the events of life that overrun us, and make me put it all aside. I am satisfied.
Lubliner.
 
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