PROFESSOR THADDEUS LOWE
Civil War Balloon Brigade Rises Again
by ALLISON KEYES
National Public Radio
June 12, 2011
To help union troops scout during the
Civil War, President Lincoln signed off on a plan to create a volunteer
balloon brigade. A commemoration at the National Mall honored the event
on Saturday, complete with a gas-filled balloon and period dress.
Allison Keyes reports.
JACKI LYDEN, host:
One hundred and fifty years ago this month, a man named Thaddeus Lowe
demonstrated to President Abraham Lincoln that gas-filled balloons
could be used for surveillance in the Civil War. Yesterday, a crowd
gathered on the National Mall to watch a reenactment of an event so
historic that balloons are still being used today by U.S. troops to spy
on their adversaries.
NPR's Allison Keyes was there.
ALLISON KEYES: As children gaped at
the silvery flaccid balloon lying on the grass along with its netting
and a basket draped with red white and blue bunting, a brisk man in a
spiffy black outfit stepped up to introduce himself.
Kevin Knapp: (as Professor Thaddeus Lowe) I'm Professor Thaddeus Lowe
and I was the commander of the Balloon Corps in the Army of the Potomac
KEYES: That year Lowe flew 500 feet
above the National Mall in a tethered gas-filled balloon. And as
Smithsonian senior curator Tom Crouch explains, Lowe saw a lot.
Mr. TOM CROUCH (Senior Curator,
Smithsonian Institution): What he told Lincoln was that he can see for
25 miles in any direction and he can see the camps, military camps,
that had been laid out around Washington.
KEYES: The balloon used in
yesterday's reenactment was 1,900 cubic feet -similar in size to the
original balloon used by Lowe, but it wasn't allowed to take off due to
Homeland Security concerns.
Kevin Knapp: (as Professor Lowe): Now, pull the rope towards you...
KEYES: In the 19th century flight,
Lowe flew with three people in a balloon named the Enterprise.
Afterward, Lowe was invited to the White House and eventually ended up
leading a union army corps of seven balloons.
President Lincoln and Professor Lowe,
who apparently had some sort of special time travel dispensation for
the festivities, reminisced as Union troops and civilian volunteers set
about partially inflating the balloon.
Unidentified Man #1: (as President
Lincoln) When you did that first balloon demonstration for me by using
the telegraph from the balloon down, could be called the first
Kevin Knapp: (as Professor Lowe): It was the first...
Unidentified Man #1: (as President Lincoln) First air to ground telegraph.
Kevin Knapp: (as Professor Lowe) ...air to ground telegraph; yes, sir.
Ms. DEBBIE CARTER: I think it's neat.
KEYES: Debbie Carter and her husband
were standing in the crowd grinning and very mindful of the fact the
balloon surveillance has been used in many wars since then.
Ms. CARTER: First World War and the
Second World War, and all of the things, that that wouldn't have
happened with airplanes and balloons if this hadn't have happened.
Mr. CROUCH: Make sure it goes underneath.
KEYES: Smithsonian curator Crouch says the museum wanted people to see this as a pivotal moment.
Mr. CROUCH: A hundred and fifty years
later, being able to do aerial reconnaissance is still one of the most
important things the military does with flying machines.
KEYES: Allison Keyes, NPR News, Washington.
BEFORE THE WAR
CIVIL WAR YEARS
INVENTIONS AND INDUSTRY
PASADENA CALIFORNIA YEARS
MOUNT LOWE RAILWAY
AFTER THE RAILWAY
BOOKS ABOUT LOWE
EVENTS AND REUNIONS
ARTIFACTS AND HISTORY
ACCLAMATIONS AND AWARDS
LINKS TO OTHER THADDEUS LOWE WEBSITES