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Civil War Aeronautics

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Fair Oaks, Virginia. Prof. Thaddeus S. Lowe replenishing balloon INTREPID from balloon CONSTITUTION. May 1862

Will Lieut. Gen. Scott please see Professor Lowe once more about his balloon?

This quote comes from a note that President Lincoln wrote to General Scott on July 25, 1861. Thaddeus Sobieski Coulincourt Lowe (Prof. T.S.C. Lowe) was an expert balloonist and would become the Chief Aeronaut for the United States Government during the Civil War. As Chief Aeronaut for the Balloon Corps of the Army of the Potomac, also known as the Union Army Balloon Corps, he and his fellow aeronauts made observations of enemy operations and conducted aerial reconnaissance.

In honor of the Sesquicentennial (150th) anniversary, I have pulled together a selection of resources from the Library’s collections about the use of aviation during the Civil War in the guide Civil War Aeronautics (1861-1865). This guide will lead you to articles, books, manuscripts, maps, photographs, and  a documentary about Civil War aviation and its aeronauts.

The Balloon Corps was the first official use of aviation in American military operations. It is amazing to think of the advancement of aviation and aerial reconnaissance during the past 150 years- starting with the Civil War balloons to post-WWII B-50s and from the Cold War’s infamous U-2s and SR-71 Blackbirds to contemporary unmanned aircraft.  Today, most of our military’s aerial reconnaissance is done by satellites and unmanned aircraft such as the General Atomics MQ-1 Predator.

If you are interested in learning more about the history and science of  lighter-than-air-aircraft such as balloons see our LC Tracer Bullet: Balloons and Airships.

Comments (2)

  1. Prefer “Intrepid” to “Predator”

  2. Update: A commenter has pointed out that the B-50 was not used during WWII. The B-50 Superfortress passed into service in 1947, not long after the war ended. It was an improvement of the WWII B-29 Superfortress.

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