War had finally come. There was a lot of talk, but after Lincoln’s election, southern states began leaving the Union and it had come to war to preserve the country. One man thought he might be able to help the Union with the war. His name was Thaddeus Lowe. Lowe was an aeronaut (someone who flew air balloons) at the time the Civil War began, and he thought that the army should have an actual balloon corp to help determine troop movements, fortifications and other advantages that could only be seen from the sky. Lowe found some in the government more receptive to his idea than others, but he did find support with the first general of the Union army, McClellan, who soon made use of Lowe’s hydrogen air balloons.
Flying high above enemy lines was not something that could be taken lightly. The confederates soon realized the problem these balloons could cause for them, and right away began trying to shoot them out of the air! Because the balloons needed to go up and come down, sometimes quickly, ropes were attached to allow for just such an activity. Lowe often took up members of the military so they could gage troop size and movement. Sometimes the balloons went up during actual battles and were able to give important information to help the commanders on the ground.
Lincoln’s Flying Spies: Thaddeus Lowe and the Civil War Balloon Corps by Gail Jarrow is a quick and interesting read about a little known part of the Civil War.
Recommended for grades 6 and up.