PROFESSOR THADDEUS LOWE

THE CIVIL WAR YEARS

Lowe Serving Through Chancellorsville Battle and Resigning - 1863

 

O.R.--SERIES III--VOLUME III [S# 124]
CORRESPONDENCE, ORDERS, REPORTS, AND RETURNS OF THE UNION AUTHORITIES FROM JANUARY 1 TO DECEMBER 31, 1863.--# 12

 

BALLOON IN THE AIR,
April 29, 1863--10 a.m.

Major-General SEDGWICK,
Commanding Left Wing, Army of the Potomac:

        GENERAL: The enemy's line of battle is formed in the edge of the woods at the foot of the heights from opposite Fredericksburg to some distance to the left of our lower crossing. Their line appears quite thin compared with our force. Their tents all remain as heretofore, as far as can be seen.

T. S. C. LOWE,
Aeronaut.

(Lowe reports movement of Confederate army away from Fredericksburg to Chancellorsville)

12 M.

        The enemy's infantry are moving to our right about four miles below our crossing on a road just beyond the heights. The enemy do not appear to advance.

T. S. C. LOWE.

 

1.30 P.M.

        The enemy are moving wagon trains to their rear. Their force, which is in position opposite our crossing, is very light. I should judge not more than we now have across the river.

T. S. C. LOWE.

 

2.45 P.M.

        About two regiments of the enemy's infantry have just moved forward from the heights and entered the rifle-pits opposite our lower crossing. Heavy smokes are visible about six miles up the river on the opposite side in the woods.

T. S. C. LOWE,
Chief of Aeronautics.

 

HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF THE POTOMAC,
April 29, 1863.

Professor LOWE, &c.:

        The major-general commanding directs that one of your balloons proceeds to-night or before daybreak to-morrow to Banks' Ford, or vicinity, and takes position to ascertain with regard to the force of the enemy between Fredericksburg, Bowling Green, and Banks' Ford. A signal telegraph is working between here and Banks' Ford, by which information can be communicated.
        It is especially desired to know the comparative strength of the enemy's force at Franklin's Crossing, and in the vicinity of Banks' Ford, and above to the west of Fredericksburg.

BUTTERFIELD,
Major-General and Chief of Staff.

(Lowe is ordered to stay with General Sedgwick opposite Fredericksburg)

HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF THE POTOMAC,
April 29, 1863.

Maj. Gen. J. SEDGWICK,
Commanding Sixth Corps:

        GENERAL: The commanding general desires that you will please have the accompanying communication sent at once to Professor Lowe, who is supposed to be in your vicinity.

Very respectfully, &c.,
S. WILLIAMS,

Assistant Adjutant-General.

 

HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF THE POTOMAC,
April 29, 1863.

Professor LOWE, &c.:

        The major-general commanding directs that your balloon on service near Sedgwick's command be sent up at a very early hour in the morning before sunrise, and that you get a communication with the signal telegraph to forward to these headquarters the earliest information with regard to the numbers, strength, and position of the enemy. This is not to interfere with the service of the balloon at Banks' Ford.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
S. WILLIAMS,

Assistant Adjutant-General.

(Lowe orders James Allen to move toward Chancellorsville and disobeys order to stay near Fredericksburg)

APRIL 29, 1863

JAMES ALLEN,
In Charge of Balloon Washington:

        You will have your men prepare one or two days' rations to-night, and in the morning have the men all ready to cross the river by daybreak. I will meet you where the balloon is now anchored.

Very respectfully, &c.,
T. S. C. LOWE,

Chief of Aeronautics.

 

HEADQUARTERS AERONAUTIC CORPS,
April 29, 1863.

Mr. E. S. ALLEN,
In Charge of Balloon Eagle:

        General Hooker desires a reconnaissance made after dark to observe the location of the enemy's camp-fires. Also in the morning immediately before daybreak. Great care should be taken to gain all the information you can. Please make a careful report after 9 o'clock to-night and soon after daylight in the morning. A high altitude should be attained in order to accomplish the object desired. Be careful you observe the points of the compass correctly.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
T. S. C. LOWE,

Chief Aeronaut, Army of the Potomac.

 

HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF THE POTOMAC,
April 29, 1863.

Maj. Gen. JOHN SEDGWICK:

        GENERAL: I shall be absent to-morrow morning at Banks' Ford and vicinity, and if I may venture an opinion, I think it advisable that some engineer or other competent officer be instructed to ascend in balloon Washington from time to time until my return, for the purpose of reconnoitering from Fredericksburg as low down as the commanding general deems necessary.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
T. S. C. LOWE,

Chief Aeronaut, Army of the Potomac.

 

HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF THE POTOMAC,
April 29, 1863--10 p.m.

Mr. E. S. ALLEN:

        The commanding general directs that your balloon be taken to Banks' Ford in order to take very important observations before and after daybreak. I will be there at daybreak, but you can commence to take observations should I not be there in time. The best way to go is to follow the signal telegraph. Look out for obstructions, &c., and don't fail, for now is your time to gain a position.

Respectfully, &c.,
T. S. C. LOWE,

Chief of Aeronautics, Army of the Potomac.

(Lowe returns to General Sedgwick's headquarters)

HEADQUARTERS AERONAUTIC CORPS,
Camp near Falmouth, April 30, 1863---8.30 p.m.

Major General BUTTERFIELD,
Chief of Staff:

        GENERAL: After my report at 4.45 this p.m. I came down to General Sedgwick's headquarters and ascended at 7 o'clock, remaining up until after dark in order to see the location of the enemy's camp-fires. I find them most numerous in a ravine about one mile beyond the heights opposite General Sedgwick's forces, extending from opposite the lower crossing to a little above the upper crossing. There are also many additional fires in the rear of Fredericksburg. From appearances I should judge that full three-fourths of the enemy's force is immediately back and below Fredericksburg.

Very respectfully, your most obedient servant,
T. S. C. LOWE,

Chief of Aeronautics, Army of the Potomac.

(Lowe warns of Confederate army moving towards Chancellorsville)

APRIL 30, 1863.

Mr. E. S. ALLEN,
In Charge of Balloon Eagle, Banks' Ford:

        Commence observations at daylight to-morrow morning, and look out for the enemy moving on the roads, either up or down, and report by telegraph, having your dispatch sent to General Hooker at United States Ford, and to General Sedgwick, Franklin's Crossing. Be sure of the correctness of your reports, and report promptly.

T. S. C. LOWE,
Chief of Aeronautics, Army of the Potomac.

        The following eight dispatches were of the greatest importance, and especially when it is considered that all of these movements were out of sight of all but the observer in the balloon, and the information could not have been obtained in any other way:

BALLOON IN THE AIR,
May 1, 1863--9.15 a.m.

Major-General SEDGWICK,
Commanding Left Wing, Army of the Potomac:

        GENERAL: Heavy columns of the enemy's infantry and artillery are now moving up the river accompanied by many army wagons, the foremost column being about opposite Falmouth and three miles from the river. There is also a heavy reserve on the heights opposite the upper crossing, and all the rifle-pits are well filled.

T. S. C. LOWE.

 

9.30 A. M.

        Still another column has just started from opposite the upper crossing, but not those mentioned as reserved in my last dispatch. They are moving with great rapidity.

T. S. C. LOWE.

 

10 A. M.

A column of the enemy are now crossing a small run that empties into the Rappahannock at Banks' Ford. One of the columns that left from opposite here required thirty minutes to pass a given point. The balloon at Banks' Ford is continually up. Long trains of wagons are still moving to the right.

T. S. C. LOWE.

 

11 A.M.

        I can see no earth-works on the Bowling Green road. I should judge that the guns had been taken from the earth-works to the right of Fredericksburg. Another train of wagons is moving to the right on a road about one mile from beyond the heights opposite Franklin's Crossing. The enemy's barracks opposite Banks' Ford are entirely deserted. The largest column of the enemy is moving on the road toward Chancellorsville. The enemy on the opposite heights I judge considerably diminished. Can see no change under the heights and in the rifle-pits. I can see no diminution in the enemy's tents.

T. S. C. LOWE.

War of the Aeronauts, pages 280-285

        On the evening of May 1, Lee and Jackson conferred, seeking a way to check Hooker's next move. In a setting that has since taken on mythic proportions, the two Confederate generals sat on overturned cracker boxes, backlit by the flame of a burning campfire. It was decided that Jackson would take 26,000 men on a hazardous daylight movement across the front of Hooker's advance guard scarcely two miles away. The idea was that Jackson's men would be in a position to attack Hooker's army from its right flank, while the remaining divisions under Lee would strike the Yankees head on.

        On the morning of May 2, Jackson and his troops began their long march. Although the maneuver was detected late in the day by elements of the Union XI Corps, under the command of Oliver O. Howard, Hooker did nothing to prepare for the coming onslaught.

        It is interesting to note that Lee's army was already en route to meet Hooker by the time that Lowe made his observations and dispatched Ezra Allen to investigate further. Yet no preparatory action seemed to come from Hooker at Chancellor's House, if indeed Lowe's intelligence reports actually reached him. Moreover, on the morning of May 2, Lee was reduced to a force of only 16,000 men, as Jackson worked furiously to move his troops around the Union flank. Jackson's men were, for the most part, barefooted and ill-equipped and the progress they made was nothing short of miraculous. Had Hooker chosen to make a frontal assault his army could have potentially devastated Lee's vastly outnumbered force. But Hooker hesitated, in what was probably the first sign that his nerve was rapidly failing.

        With the rays of the morning first light, Hooker desperately hoped that Sedgwick would be able to subdue the Confederates entrenched at Marye's Heights and to come to squeeze Lee's force between them.

        But Sedgwick's progress was none too rapid. Lowe's dispatches during Sedgwick's siege of Marye's Heights were indicative of the great amount of activity taking place. As one contemporary historian noted, Lowe and the Allen brothers, "were up and down like jumping jacks" during the battle.

        VI Corps efforts on the field concluded by the end of May 4. Word eventually reached Sedgwick that Hooker had decided to break off any further engagement with Lee at Chancellorsville and withdraw back beyond the Rappahonnock River. Without any reason to continue the battle, Sedgwick recalled his men and fell back to a safe position across the west bank of the Rappahannock.

 

O.R.--SERIES III--VOLUME III [S# 124]
CORRESPONDENCE, ORDERS, REPORTS, AND RETURNS OF THE UNION AUTHORITIES FROM JANUARY 1 TO DECEMBER 31, 1863.--# 12

CAMP NEAR FALMOUTH, VA., May 7, 1863.

Capt. C. B. COMSTOCK,
Chief Engineer, Army of the Potomac:

        CAPTAIN: The heavy storm of the 5th and 6th instant caused the loss of the entire gas from one balloon, partially from the other; also destroyed ten carboys of acid and four barrels of iron trimmings.
        I would therefore respectfully recommend that 100 carboys of acid and twenty barrels of iron be at once ordered by telegraph.

I remain, very respectfully, &c.
T. S. C. LOWE,

Chief of Aeronautics, Army of the Potomac.

        Shortly after sending the above to Captain Comstock I called on him personally, relative to putting in order several balloons which needed repairs, and also to learn what decision had been made relative to my communication of April 12, 1863. Captain Comstock informed me that he would select the person to superintend that business---(the delicate one of putting balloons in order.) He also informed me that the terms were indicated in his indorsement on my communication. I informed him that was not satisfactory, and inasmuch as I had given notice on the 12th of April that I could not serve on the terms he named, and as the battle was now over, I wished to be relieved, provided it was a suitable time; to which Captain Comstock replied that if I was going I could probably be spared better then than any other time. I received pay up to April 7 inclusive, and came to Washington.

INDEX PAGE

BEFORE THE WAR

CIVIL WAR YEARS

INVENTIONS AND INDUSTRY

NORRISTOWN PENNSYLVANIA YEARS

PASADENA CALIFORNIA YEARS

MOUNT LOWE RAILWAY

AFTER THE RAILWAY

BOOKS ABOUT LOWE

NEWSPAPER ARTICLES

EVENTS AND REUNIONS

ARTIFACTS AND HISTORY

ENCYCLOPEDIA BIOGRAPHY

ACCLAMATIONS AND AWARDS

LINKS TO OTHER THADDEUS LOWE WEBSITES