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Surveillance Of The Civil War

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Surveillance of the Civil War

The Civil War was a time of tremendous change and innovation. During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries Americans witnessed the invention of numerous life changing machines. The 1800's brought the arc lamp, printing presses, photography, steam locomotives, telegraphs, revolvers, and the safety pin (About 1). The year of 1783 marked the invention of the air balloon. Over the next few decades scientists and adventurers modified and improved upon the original concepts of the air balloon. The air balloon, not to be mistaken with the hot air balloon, was often filled with helium or other light gases to get off the ground. The most primitive were even filled with smoke. During the early sessions of the Civil War we can see that air balloons played a major role in gathering battlefield information. Peter Jackson, a historian of air balloons has stated that "captive balloons were some of the first air balloons used during a period of war."

During the Civil War both the union and confederate armies used air balloons for investigation. John Wise, a balloon inventor, was the first to receive orders to build a balloon for the union army (Stansbury 1). However, the balloon never was used because it escaped its tethers and was shot down to prevent it from falling into Confederate hands.

Thaddeus Lowe was one of the most influential people using an air balloon during the 19th century. Lowe had learned the usefulness of balloon observations when he had accidentally landed in South Carolina on a flight from Cincinnati, Ohio, to the Atlantic Ocean, a trip that would almost have him arrested for spying. The term "spying" caught one of Lowe's financial supporters' attention. Murat Halstead considered the usefulness of the hot air balloon, then wrote to U.S. Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase and suggested that the United States establish a balloon corps under Lowe's command. This corps would provide aerial reconnaissance for the Union armies (ACW 1).

Secretary Chase arranged a meeting between Lowe and President Abraham Lincoln for June 11, 1861. On July 17, 1861, Lowe demonstrated his ideas for balloon reconnaissance and also for sending telegrams from the balloon to the commanders below. He used one of his most well known balloons and floated to over 500 feet demonstrating how an observer could view a battle field. President Lincoln was very impressed with the concept, and later established the Balloon Corps, a civilian organization under the authority of the Union's Bureau of Topographical Engineers. After the program had begun President Lincoln granted Lowe permission to command the equipment and personnel.

Lowe received funds to build the fist balloon on August 2, 1861. The first U.S. balloon designed for military use, the Union, was ready for action on August 28. Because he was forced to inflate the balloon with gas from municipal lines in Washington, D.C , the balloon could not be moved far, which limited operations to the Washington, DC, area. On September 24, 1861, Lowe ascended to more than 1,000 feet near Arlington, Virginia, across the Potomac River from Washington, DC, and began telegraphing intelligence on the Confederate troops located at Falls Church, Virginia, more than three miles away. Union guns were aimed and fired accurately at the Confederate troops without actually being able to see them. This was one of the greatest advantages an army had ever witnessed (Stansbury 7).

This achievement led the Secretary of War, Simon Cameron, to direct Lowe to build four additional balloons immediately, and another two balloons if all had gone well. The fleet now consisted of the Intrepid, Constitution, United States, Washington, Eagle, Excelsior, and the original Union. The balloons ranged in size from 32,000 cubic feet down to 15,000 cubic feet (Evans 4).

During the Civil War the confederate

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