PROFESSOR THADDEUS LOWE
THE CIVIL WAR YEARS
Lowe Finds and Secures Ideal Artillery Location at Gain's Farm - late May 1862
Memoirs of Thaddeus Lowe, pages 125-127
Thaddeus Lowe on horseback
during the Peninsular Campaign in 1862
National Air and Space Museum of the Smithsonian Institute
I joined General Stoneman's command, and on the morning of the 20th we arrived near the Chickahominy. On the following morning, accompanied by General Stoneman, I ascended and there had a distinct view of Richmond, the general being the first to point out the city as we were rising. As we gained altitude we saw that the Confederates who had made their way from Yorktown were camped about Richmond.
Finding an armed force between us and the high ridge on the banks of the Chickahominy River and an ideal spot for planting artillery to command the other bank of the river, I took one orderly and rode towards a great open field, with extensive buildings on the main promenade. It proved to be a 1,000 acre wheat field nearly ready for harvest. As our horses jumped over the fence and we approached the house through the wheat field, a tall commanding looking gentleman stood at his gate with a dark expression on his face, and when saluted he replied "Gentlemen, why could you not have taken the road to reach the house instead of riding through and trampling down so fine a field of grain." Said I "This is Dr. Gains, is it not?" He said "Yes." "Well Doctor, I am sorry to see so fine a field of grain as this trampled down, but it is inevitable. Our army is just behind me and will soon occupy its most commanding position which, unfortunately, at this time is where we are standing, but I assure you that your house and gardens shall be properly guarded," and as my men soon followed I placed a guard about the house and gardens. By this time the lead of the army had arrived in sight, which made the Doctor turn pale indeed. He soon saw the force of my argument and my desire to protect him and his family, and after pitching my camp in the locust grove near his house, that evening a house servant with a tray full of garden luxuries was sent over to my dining tent, very much to my surprise, but I was delighted to get such fresh luxuries as the server contained. I knew what was short with the Confederates and selecting such things as I know they could not get, I sent my cook over to the house to return the compliment.
On the 25th of May the balloon proved of great advantage, and I copy the following memorandum from my notebook respecting the observations made.
Gaines' Hill, May 25, 1862
This has been a fine and important day. General Stoneman ascended with me to an elevation of a thousand fee, had a splendid view of the enemy's country and discovered a force of the enemy near New Bridge concealed to watch our movements. The general then took two batteries and placed them to the right and left of Dr. Gaines' house, and caused the enemy to retreat for at least a mile and a half, while he remained in the balloon with me directing the commanders of the batteries where to fire as they could not see the objects fired at. The general then went to Mechanicsville and drove the enemy from that position, while I remained up in the balloon to keep up appearances and to see if a larger force opposed him.
After descending, General Stoneman was heard to say, in the presence of several gentlemen, that he had seen enough to be worth many thousands of dollars to the government.
It is certain that he is too keen an observer and able an officer to be insensible to the advantages of so superior and accurate a means of observation, as that afforded by the balloon.
One of the principle objects of General Stoneman, in driving the rebels from the banks of the Chickahominy was to enable him to move to Mechanicsville unnoticed, whereby he might surprise the enemy at that point, which he effectually accomplished by the aid of the balloon. He often availed himself of it by ascending personally instead of trusting to some inferior officer who had no interest or reputation at stake. I always noticed, moreover, that the general invariably pitched his tent where he could see the enemy himself.
On the occasion above alluded to, the enemy was so concealed behind woods and hills, that it was impossible to ascertain their positions in any other way than by ascending to a great elevation; and the artillery might have been fired a whole day without doing any injury, unless the proper range had been obtained.
A Richmond paper of May 26 contained the following items: "The enemy are fast making their appearance on the banks of the Chickahominy. Yesterday they had a balloon in the air the whole day, it being witnessed by many of our citizens from the streets and house-tops. They evidently discovered something of importance to them, for at about 4 o'clock A.M., a brisk cannonading was heard at Mechanicsville, and the Yankees now occupy that place."
BEFORE THE WAR
CIVIL WAR YEARS
INVENTIONS AND INDUSTRY
NORRISTOWN PENNSYLVANIA YEARS
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