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Friday, June 1, 2012

Civil War Photo Friday: Military ballooning

The Civil War saw lots of military innovations, including the first extensive use of balloons for observing enemy troop movements. They'd already been used by the French as far back as 1794 but the Americans and Confederates took it higher (ahem!) by using them much more and hooking telegraph wires between the balloon and the ground station to send messages back.

The North used them more, having many more industrial facilities. Balloons stayed fixed as observation posts and never tried anything like dropping bombs
The Intrepid was one of the Northern balloons, crewed by Prof. Thaddeus Lowe, a balloonist who offered his services to the war effort. The photo below shows him going up to spy on the rebels at the Battle of Seven Pines.
The first of the photos is of a different balloon. It makes for a nice series, though!


  1. I imagine if they'd used them to attack the enemy, the balloon would've simply been shot down. Not good.

  2. Why didn't they shoot down the balloons anyway? If both sides had these 'observation' balloons and they both knew what they were for, why were they tolerated?

    Was there a dismissive attitude toward this new technology?

  3. Hi Sean .. interesting that they were used that far back .. makes sense - though I don't think I'd like to be on one!! But the telegraph bit is interesting too - even if only down to the ground ..

    Cheers Hilary

  4. Both sides tried to shoot them down with no luck. Being positioned as they were high in the air and well behind the opposing line, it was difficult to get the range, let alone the accuracy. Also, shooting at a flying target, even a slow one, requires a bit of skill that nobody at that time had practiced.
    I once saw an interested instruction manual from the Spanish Civil War showing how to aim at a low-flying plane with a rifle. Since the bullet will arc down due to gravity, you have to fire above the plane.


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