The Airship Could Have Saved the Confederacy... !

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5fish

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What if the Confederacy had created an effective airship during the Civil War... It could have happened the first Airships were originally called dirigible balloons flew in 1852 in France... The word "dirigible," in fact, comes from the French word diriger, meaning "to direct or to steer."


Henri Giffard's steam-powered airship flew in 1852.
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A little history:
The thought:

In 1784, General Jean Baptiste Marie Meusnier designed an elliptical airship that was about 260 feet (79 meters) long. It was to be powered by three hand-cranked propellers, which required the labor of 80 men. Meusnier's design was never built.

The Action:

In 1850, another Frenchmen, Pierre Jullien of Villejuif, demonstrated a cigar-shaped model airship at the Paris Hippodrome. The airship's rudder, elevator, and gondola were mounted under the front part of the balloon. A clockwork motor that drove two airscrews mounted on either side of a center line propelled the airship. A light wire frame stiffened by a truss maintained the bag's form. Jullien was onto something that another man would leverage.

The moment:

Jules Henri Giffard, a French engineer and inventor, took note of Jullien's design. He built the first full-size airship — a cigar-shaped, non-rigid bag that was 143 feet (44 meters) long and had a capacity of 113,000 cubic feet (3,200 cubic meters). He also built a small 3-horsepower (2.2-kilowatt) steam engine to power a three-bladed propeller. The engine weighed 250 pounds (113 kilograms) and needed a 100-pound (45.4 kilograms) boiler to fire it.

The first flight of Giffard's steam-powered airship took place Sept. 24, 1852 — 51 years before the Wright Brothers’ first flight. Traveling at about 6 miles per hour (10 kilometers/hour), Giffard traveled almost 17 miles (27 kilometers) from the Paris racecourse to Elancourt, near Trappes. The small engine could not overcome the prevailing winds, and Giffard could only manage to turn the airship in slow circles. He did, however, prove that in calm conditions controlled flight was possible.


Here is the kicker the first round trip flight was in 1884 by the French:::

The first flight of La France took place on Aug. 9, 1884. Renard and Krebs landed successfully at the parade ground where they had begun—a flight of 5 miles (8 kilometers) and 23 minutes in which they had been in control throughout. During 1884 and 1885, La France made seven flights. Although the batteries limited its flying range, the airship demonstrated that controlled flight was possible if it had a sufficiently powerful lightweight motor.

https://www.space.com/16623-first-powered-airship.html

As you can see the early creation of airships was before, during and after our Civil war of the 1860's with a little ingenuity the Confederacy could have dominated the air above the battlefields and above the harbors. These Confederate airships could have attacked and bombed from the air shifting the tide of battle and the war in their favor. These Confederate airships could have ended the blockade of the Southern ports allowing commerce to once more flow into and out of the Confederacy. We know from the great wars of the 20th century if you control the air you control the battlefield and the war. The Confederacy should have poured their money and time into airships...

The Confederacy could have been slaved by airpower and steampunk if they had created their own Airship fleet... The technology was there for them. They only had to "seize the day"...
 
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5fish

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What is the source of hydrogen? Skills? Technology? fabric and coatings?
The union balloon crops had hydrogen so I am guessing the South could have found a source.

The point is if the Confederacy had put it's money and brains into development of airship. They would have created the soills, and technology for an airships...
 
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Hussar Yeomanry

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The union balloon crops had hydrogen so I am guessing the South could have found a source.

The point is if the Confederacy had put it's money and brains into development of airship. They would have created the soills, and technology for an airships...
While it is theoretically possible that the Confederacy could do this they would have to be ploughing money and resources into utterly unproven technology. At the same time they would be removing these same resources from either their navy or army which already had supply issues. Therefore the chance of them doing it seems to me beyond remote.

Further what makes you think the Union wouldn't immediately respond by building (significantly more) airships of their own. They had spies after all and would have had plenty of time for a response for it would not have been simple or quick for either side to develop airships. This is basically what happens with the ironclads after all.

So, yes I suppose it could have happened.

But there were very good reasons it didn't.

(And @19thGeorgia makes a good point that in a very limited way both sides did explore the possibilities. That they got no further says something about the available technology and resources of the time)
 
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John Hartwell

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The CSA did have balloons in Richmond and Charleston. There was even someone who designed and (I believe) tested a flying machine.
There were several of them:
https://civilwartalk.com/threads/james-c-pattons-flying-war-machine-of-the-confederacy-almost.146991/#post-1835036
https://civilwartalk.com/threads/flying-machines.14691/#post-171497
https://civilwartalk.com/threads/confederate-flying-machine.26847/#post-335011
They didn't help the Confederacy ... or the Union.
mkjnhb.jpg

[Jan. 1864]​
 
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jgoodguy

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The union balloon crops had hydrogen so I am guessing the South could have found a source.

The point is if the Confederacy had put it's money and brains into development of airship. They would have created the soills, and technology for an airships...
Then the question becomes what do they do with it and find battles where that use would have been significant.
 
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jgoodguy

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jgoodguy

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If there had been a Confederate airship it's very likely the Union would have developed one. Regardless it would not automatically gurantee Confederate victory.
The simplest thing is artillery to shot them down or bombard the support base/party.
 

BlueandGrayl

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The simplest thing is artillery to shot them down or bombard the support base/party.
But if balloons and other air-based travel exist and both the Union and the Confederacy use it then get ready to expect cities like Washington and Richmond to get bombed and that's if the technology allows it to.
 
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Hussar Yeomanry

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One other point. In the First World War all the major powers had (small) aviation forces at the outset of war. Yet it takes a year (or more) before serious aerial combat occurs so if people are expecting some Steampunk Civil War cross over with great aerial dog fights that just isn't going to happen immediately. Indeed logically it would require something like a Gattling Gun - which the south doesn't have. They have various volley guns but to make them viable for air combat requires more time and resources that the south just does not have to spare (on top of that which they have had to expend to get barely capable airships in the first place - air ships won't really be viable until the internal combustion engine and even then are severely limited).

So, no, I do not think this idea is going to fly.
 

John Hartwell

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The simplest thing is artillery to shot them down or bombard the support base/party.
Back in 1908, I think it was, the Italians used a Wright flying machine to drop hand-grenades on Arab rebels in Libya --scared the bejeebers out of them, but didn't do any real harm. A letter in Scientific American, however, insisted that aircraft could never be successfully used to bombard enemy troops because "the concentrated rifle fire of an entire regiment" would render the attempt almost suicidal.
 
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jgoodguy

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Back in 1908, I think it was, the Italians used a Wright flying machine to drop hand-grenades on Arab rebels in Libya --scared the bejeebers out of them, but didn't do any real harm. A letter in Scientific American, however, insisted that aircraft could never be successfully used to bombard enemy troops because "the concentrated rifle fire of an entire regiment" would render the attempt almost suicidal.
Enfields had a range of 1400 yards and A Whitworth had a range of 2000 yards. 3-inch Ordnance Rifle 4830 yards. Less range depending on elevation. The dirigible will have to fly high enough to avoid that.
 
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