Lowe Defending Against False Statements from Non-Balloonist - 1863

War of the Aeronauts, pages 265-267

        Part of the reason that Lowe had to defend his department's operations was that outside critics of the Balloon Corps were also finding a voice within the War Department. In March, 1863, an inventor by the name of England, from 1724 Rittenhouse Street, Philadelphia, wrote to General Rufus Ingalls, the chief quartermaster of the Army of the Potomac, claiming to have devised a more efficient way of generating hydrogen gas for military balloons.

        In a lengthy letter to Ingalls, England claimed to have learned, "that the expense of (the) Balloon corps was about $200 per day," during the period in which the army was engaged in the Peninsular Campaign. Furthermore, England broke down these expenses along with "the vast amount of material" used to support the Balloon Corps: I was informed that a steamboat, costing $85 per day, was constantly employed for transportation and storage; also some 40 horses, and 10 wagons, and 30 men were employed in that department.

        Exactly from what source England obtained his information was never mentioned. However, the inventor went on to state that he had a proposal that would reduce the Corp's expenses, "to about one half or less."

        England continued his letter by claiming that he had developed a new type of hydrogen generator that would "dispense entirely (with) the vast amount of valuable material, and cumbersome apparatus" that was used by the corps and that his process would provide a total savings of "$300 to $400 per day."

        Although England did not reveal any significant details of his new invention he emphatically exclaimed that "the overwhelming advantages gained over the present method of inflation ... (will) certainly add to the efficiency" of military aeronautics.

        Ingalls forwarded England's proposal to Brig. General Seth Williams, who served as assistant adjutant general to Hooker. Thaddeus Lowe was livid when he received word of England's proposal. In a lengthy response to Williams, Lowe refuted everyone of England's claims.



Memoirs of Thaddeus Lowe, pages 162-165


Camp near Falmouth, Va., March 30, 1863.

Brig. Gen. S. WILLIAMS,
Assistant Adjutant-General, Army of the Potomac:

        GENERAL: On the 21st of this month I received from you an article setting forth a new plan for operating balloons for military purposes, proposed by a Mr. B. Englend, and referred to me for an expression of opinion and report. In consequence, however, of my time being occupied during the past week in Washington before the Committee of Congress on the Conduct of the War, I have not been able to make a report until now.
        In examining the papers I find many misstatements concerning the present balloon operations, which, in justice to myself and those connected with this department, I feel in duty bound to set right.
        First, then, in comparing the two methods, he states that "the time required to inflate a balloon by the present mode is fifteen hours," when in fact it never required over three hours and fifteen minutes, and since adding my last improvements Mr. Allen, one of my assistants, informs me that the gas now makes in two hours and thirty minutes instead of fifteen hours as represented.
        Second. He states that the cost of inflating now for a simple inflation is $400, when the actual cost is only about $60 now; and when the iron (which we now obtain free of cost at the Washington Navy-Yard) had to be purchased, the cost was then in the neighborhood of $75, which, when divided into fourteen (the number of days the balloons will retain their power, on the average), the cost per day for gas will be about $5.30. Of course this does not include contingent expenses.
        Third. Mr. Englend states that it now requires 12,000 pounds of acid and iron for a single inflation, when, in fact, that amount will keep two balloons inflated from three to four weeks.
        Fourth. He states that it now requires twelve or fourteen wagons, when the facts are that it never did require over seven wagons to haul four balloons and appendages and material to keep them inflated, and all camp and garrison equipage for the whole aeronautic corps.
        Now that I have made the above corrections, I will give my opinion (as I am ordered to do so) of the relative advantages between the method proposed and the one now employed.
        First. According to the statement of Mr. Englend, it requires a bulk of 68,000 cubic feet to lift the same weight that now requires 15,000 cubic feet, much lees than a quarter of the capacity of the balloon which he proposes. After figuring the weight of the appendages, which he puts down at 750 pounds, he then has left 250 pounds ascensive power. Now, considering that nine-tenths of the ascensions now made require an ascensive power of 400 to 600 pounds in order to counteract the force of the wind against the side of a balloon, it is certain that with a bulk more than four times as large and weight and with less than a quarter of the power, it could not ascend at all; or, in other words, when the balloon of 15,000 cubic feet capacity lifting 1,000 pounds, with weight of apparatus and two persons, between 400 and 500 pounds, can ascend from 1,000 to 2,000 feet, the balloon of 68,000 feet capacity and weighing 750 pounds, with a lifting power of 1,000, could not be held by fifty men against the wind, and would be blown to the earth.
        Second. I should say that it would be impossible to tow from place to place a balloon of the kind last mentioned; therefore should two ascensions be required at different points in one day (as is often the case, in order to make a full and correct report), the balloon would have to be inflated at each point, which would be another impossibility, and would involve the expense of $250, according to the cost set down for each inflation. Besides, the constant handling of the machinery must necessarily soon wear it out.
        I would here take occasion to say that the balloons now in service have been in use for nearly two years; have been inflated from one to two months without changing the gas; have stood the storms of two winters, and are kept constantly ready to ascend at five minutes' notice (whenever the weather will admit), and ascend four times higher than ever was done (by ropes) before, These are circumstances which history affords no parallel in any country. Notwithstanding this, I would respectfully recommend that Mr. Englend be permitted to try his experiments in the field beside the present balloon operations, in order to compare fairly the relative advantages of the two upon precisely the same grounds that I was allowed to try my first experiments, namely, with his own balloon and apparatus and at his own expense.
        In conclusion, I would beg to state that the knowledge I have acquired in the aeronautic art has cost me much means and expense and many years of hard labor; therefore I would most respectfully ask that this report will not be furnished to Mr. Englend or his associates, as I desire not to instruct any persons except in the U.S. service.

I remain, general, with great respect, your most obedient servant,
T. S. C. LOWE,

Chief of Aeronautics, Army of the Potomac.


Near Falmouth, Va., April 1, 1863.

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

        SIR: In accordance with your request that I should furnish you with a report of my operations previous to my employment under your direction and my opinion of your system of aeronautics, that you may avail yourself of it in your report to the Secretary of War, I would most respectfully submit the following:
        For a number of years previous to the breaking out of this war I followed the profession of an aeronaut, as then practiced by the leaders in that art. At the commencement of the rebellion I was induced by my friends to offer my services to the Government. I did so, and for the purpose of demonstrating what I could do I brought on two balloons in July, 1861. Some experiments were made before an officer of the Topographical Engineers, appointed for that purpose, After witnessing my operations he pronounced them unsatisfactory, although I had, as a general thing, been as successful as other aeronauts had previously been. After ascertaining what was expected of balloons, and under what circumstances they would have to be operated, in' order to meet the requirements of those not acquainted with the art, I came to the conclusion that balloons could not be introduced into the U.S. service without an entire different arrangement. Not only must decided improvements be made in the balloon and paraphernalia, but the balloon must be inflated at short notice, and at different points in the field, and for that purpose there was no apparatus yet invented. After thus summing up the matter I returned to my home in Providence and subsequently watched with much interest the report of your progress in aeronautics for war purposes, until in the spring of 1862 you invited me to join your corps, since which time I have received much valuable information and instruction from you in the use of your inventions, which now enables me to operate with entire success, and, I believe, satisfactory to you, as I have often had evidence.
        In conclusion, I can conscientiously say that the Government is indebted to you alone for the introduction of this useful branch of the public service, and were it not for your improvements in the construction of balloons and invention of portable gas generators, your untiring perseverance, hard labor, and exposure, against great obstacles, aeronauts could never have been of service to our Army.
        Balloons, as usually constructed, could not be kept inflated in heavy winds, and at best could not hold their power but a few hours, whereas now the balloons are kept constantly ready to go up, day or night. From their manner of construction and great strength they are able to withstand any storm, and enables the aeronaut to ascend in nearly all weathers, and are so impervious that they can be kept inflated for months with but little replenishing, and consequently trifling expense. These are qualities heretofore unknown in the history of aeronautics, and are merits that deserve the highest commendation.

I remain, professor, with great respect, your most obedient servant,