PROFESSOR THADDEUS LOWE

NEWSPAPER ARTICLES

Off-course balloonist alarms South - First flyover accidental, later ones served Union
Washington Times, The (DC) - Thursday, October 2, 2008
Author: John Lockwood, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Thaddeus Lowe is remembered as the aeronaut who used his balloon service to gather information about Confederate movements during the Civil War. The war was only a few days old, however, when he decided to try a pleasure flight, flew off course to South Carolina and was nearly thrown into jail for spying. On Saturday, April 20, Lowe took off from Cincinnati at 3:45 a.m. It was the nation's first nighttime ascension. The balloon, made of oiled silk, was 42 feet in diameter. It's name was the Enterprise. A crowd of 50 saw him off.

Taking off in a craft that the winds could send almost anywhere wasn't the wisest thing to do just then. Fort Sumter had fallen one week before. The long-feared Civil War finally had started.

The ascension was a lovely spectacle. The moon was out, and the Cincinnati Daily Commercial reported that the little crowd saw "the large balloon sailing majestically away towards the star-lit canopy above, its form made distinctly visible by the soft rays of Luna, until it disappeared in the distance as a cloud melts away into space before the rays of a summer's sun."

Lowe was entranced by the sight of Cincinnati spread out before him, its lights twinkling in the night. The city buildings faded away, but the lights were still visible. It seemed to him that he was surrounded by stars everywhere, above and below. He hoped a time would come when many people could enjoy such a sight.

Lowe thought the wind currents would carry him more or less east. Instead, at about 9 a.m., as he was crossing the Appalachian Mountains, the balloon began drifting more to the southeast. His efforts to change course failed.

By late morning, he was floating over the South. As he drifted over a plantation, the people below yelled up at him, threatening to destroy the "hellish contrivance." Between threats, theyinformed him he was over Spartanburg, S.C., near the boundary with North Carolina. Lowe continued drifting, listening to the popping sounds of musket fire below.

When he landed about 1 p.m., he was approached cautiously by a small group of startled Southerners of both races and sexes, with some children present, too. He had landed in Greenville, S.C. Some of the white men ran off for their guns but did nothing further.

Lowe began packing up his equipment. A tall, striking young woman appointed herself as his protector. She assured Lowe he was in no real danger, for all the real men had signed up already for the war, and only cowards were left behind.

The people were incredulous at Lowe 's claim that he had taken off from Cincinnati just nine hours earlier. The distance was 1,200 miles, so he would have had to have traveled at an average speed of about 132 miles an hour. Then he began passing out copies of the April 20 Cincinnati Daily Commercial.

As the April 27 Commercial later pointed out, "It is the first time in the history of the daily press that it has been distributed at 1,200 miles distance from the place of publication on the same day."

Lowe was escorted by nine men to a town ironically named Unionville, about nine miles away. They took him to the town jail, but the staff didn't want him or his balloon. He was left at a hotel, where "persons of intelligence" soon showed up to reassure him. He stayed there Sunday and was arrested Monday on suspicion of spying.

A few scientists appeared and got Lowe freed. The mayor gave him a passport because South Carolina was no longer supposed to be part of the United States. Five days of railroad trips got Lowe back to Cincinnati.
 
Lowe was innocent of spying in April 1861, but by July 1861, his balloon ascensions were part of the Union's war effort - for spying on the South.

INDEX PAGE

BEFORE THE WAR

CIVIL WAR YEARS

INVENTIONS AND INDUSTRY

NORRISTOWN PENNSYLVANIA YEARS

PASADENA CALIFORNIA YEARS

MOUNT LOWE RAILWAY

AFTER THE RAILWAY

LOWE FAMILY

BOOKS ABOUT LOWE

NEWSPAPER ARTICLES

EVENTS AND REUNIONS

ARTIFACTS AND HISTORY

ENCYCLOPEDIA BIOGRAPHY

ACCLAMATIONS AND AWARDS

LINKS TO OTHER THADDEUS LOWE WEBSITES