Balloon Corps

Balloon Corps

Civil War Ballooning

Beginning in 1861, the Union Army had an active balloon corps. The Union Army Balloon Corp, led by presidential appointee Thaddeus S. C. Lowe, consisted of seven vessels, the largest at 32,000 cubic feet, used primarily for reconnaissance and surveilling Confederate troops. Most of these units were launched from ground bases. The Union did not utilize a maritime vessel as a staging area until August of 1961. Lowe, with the assistance of fellow aeronaut John LaMountain, directed the construction of the first real aircraft carrier. The Balloon Corps generally conducted only tethered ascents rising to 500 feet (150 metres), which afforded a 15-mile (24-km) range of vision, depending on the terrain. Tethered ascents kept the balloon generally stationary but required ground crews of up to 30 soldiers to quickly raise and lower the balloon, which was threatened by Confederate artillery and sharpshooter fire on every launch and descent. Tethered ascents improved the aeronauts’ observations but also immediately gave away the position of the ground station—usually collocated with the division or corps headquarters to expedite the transmission of observations. Thus, Confederate bombardment often fell on the headquarters as well.

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