Civil War Balloon Fleet ~ Intrepid, Union, Constitution, United States, Washington, Eagle, Excelsior

Thaddeus S. Lowe observing the battle from his balloon Intrepid. ( Library of Congress)

The Washington Post reminds that on Saturday June 11, 2011 the Smithsonian will commemorate America’s first attempt at an air force. In June 150 years ago, Thaddeus Lowe flew 500 feet into the air in front of President Abraham Lincoln. Lowe was an American “aeronaut,” and he took flight in a 19,000-cubic-foot balloon. Lowe The event will take place on the Mall, outside the National Air and Space Museum, the very ground from which Lowe’s flight took place. A near-replica of Lowe’s original will be displayed.

From the U.S. Centennial of Flight Commisssion website:

Secretary Chase arranged a meeting between Lowe and President Abraham Lincoln for June 11, 1861. On July 17, 1861, Lowe demonstrated his ideas for balloon reconnaissance and also for sending telegrams from the balloon to the commanders below. He used the Enterprise, attached to tethers and floating 500 feet (152 meters) above Washington, D.C. President Lincoln was duly impressed. Later that summer, President Lincoln established the Balloon Corps, a civilian organization under the authority of the Union’s Bureau of Topographical Engineers, and granted Lowe permission to requisition equipment and personnel. Lowe received funds to build a balloon on August 2, 1861.

Read a fuller account of the use of balloons by both the Union and the Confederacy here.