Thaddeus Lowe's balloon "Enterprise" being inflated in Cincinnati, Ohio on April 19, 1861.
At 3 a.m. on April 20, 1861, at the encouragement of Professor Joseph Henry the first Secretary of the Smithsonian, Thaddeus Lowe was preparing his balloon the Enterprise for an experimental flight. This flight would demonstrate that although the winds were blowing to the West, he could rise above them and use the upper air currents to maneuver his balloon to the East. In proving this experiment, he would be able to raise funds and support for his dream of making a Trans-Atlantic flight.
He boarded the open basket of the Enterprise with a container of hot coffee wrapped in a blanket, another of water, and a batch of freshly printed Cincinnati newspapers which would be proof of his flight should he succeed.
Lowe ascended through the west wind and into the dark. By morning he was spotted over Kentucky. He had attained altitudes in excess of 20,000 feet according to his instruments and had flown some 900 circuitous miles to a landing in Unionville, South Carolina just seven days after the surrender of Fort Sumter and the beginning of the American Civil War. There he was taken under house arrest as a Yankee spy, and it was a few days deliberating his fate until which time a local college professor could vouch for Lowe's work as a scientist. Lowe was given safe passage back to Cincinnati to pick up his balloons.
Lowe saw the South mobilizing for war as he made his way back north. Knowing aerial observation could reduce the length of the war as well as reduce the total number of casualties for both sides he abandoned his dream of crossing the Atlantic by balloon and offered his services and equipment to the Union Army.
An approximation of Lowe's flight path when he launched in Cincinnati the morning of April 20, 1861. He landed in Unionville, South Carolina just 7 days after the first shots were fired at Ft. Sumter. While the purpose of this flight was to demonstrate winds aloft went from west to east therefore making it possible to cross the Atlantic Ocean, Lowe was detained not once, but 3 times as a "Yankee Spy" as he made his way back north.
TSC Lowe, Aeronaut
Civil War Balloon Corps Living History