In honor of my RC club’s air show on Saturday I thought that I would discuss the role that air balloons played in the Civil War.
If you aren’t a student of the Civil War you may not have realized that they actually used balloons during the War. No, they were not floating over enemy lines and dropping molotov cocktails on their heads. Air balloons were used for observation of enemy movements. They were tethered in place, with either signal flags or telegraph wires being used to communicate what they were seeing. By rising above the earth to around 500 feet a person could see miles across the country side. This helped in determining just how many of the enemy they were facing.
President Lincoln authorized the first use of the balloon in 1861 after having one tethered on the front lawn of the White House for a night or so. He felt that they could really be useful in military operations. This was one of the few things that General George McClellan agreed with him on. McClellan used observation balloons quite often, in fact he employed the use of one during the Seven Days Campaign in 1862.
Both sides used the balloons, but the Union did so more than the Confederates. Despite the initial popularity of the program they were discontinued in 1863. This was due to various reasons, including the fact that during the din of battle it was often difficult to get any kind of communication from the balloon to the commanders on the field. Logistics and confusion really made it more trouble than it was worth.
If you’re wondering, none of the balloons were ever shot out of the sky. Though that wasn’t for lack of attempting to do so. The Confederates were reported to have taken quite a few shots at them, but just like Tom Chamberlain jokes in the movie Gettysburg “Notice how those Rebel guns always overshoot?” lol
Hopefully I’ve ‘raised’ your interest in the topic. Maybe your curiosity is ‘soaring’ and you would like to read more about it? I know that this post wasn’t very detailed or very long, but maybe you’ve learned about something that you didn’t know. If so, then I’ve done my job. Have a great Wednesday!