June 26, 1861
The New York Times reported today of an aerial reconnaissance over Fairfax Court House, Virginia. Yes, Civil War armies had air corps.
|Professor T.S.C. Lowe’s balloon “Intrepid” being inflated for a reconnaissance flight.|
Hot-air balloons had served European armies as recon platforms since the days of Napoleon, but the United States Army saw no need of them until the Civil War began. Out of several experimenting aeronauts, Professor Thaddeus Sobieski Coulincourt Lowe was the one who finally interested the War Department in balloons.
Union armies used them sporadically throughout the war. They did good service, except that staff officers under McClellan, Hooker, and others had trouble interpreting the intelligence they provided. Southern armies also crafted balloons (the story of making them out of donated ladies’ dresses is largely erroneous), and even had one attached to a flatbed railroad car.
The use of balloons, submarines, telegraphs, and rifled projectiles all contributed to making this, as they say, the first “modern war.”
The New York Times, June 26, 1861