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Civil War Aeronautics

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Drawing of civil war soldiers watching others holding onto a balloon with ropes.  Cannon, horsemen, and a man using a spyglass also in picture.

Title: Prof. T. Lowe making a balloon ascension on a reconnoitring expedition to Vienna, Va. Photo: Prints and Photographs Catalog, Library of Congress.

In honor of the Civil War’s Sesquicentennial (150th) anniversary this guide brings together various publications about the use of balloons for aerial reconnaissance and mapping during the United States Civil War (1861-1865).  The Balloon Corps of the Army of the Potomac became the first official use of aviation in American military operations and was the forerunner to the United States Air Force.  For more information about balloons and airships, see our Tracer Bullet 00-5 Balloons and Airships

Subject Headings

Aeronautics, Military--United States--History--19th century
Ballooning--United States--History--19th century
Lowe, T. S. C. (Thaddeus Sobieski Coulincourt)
United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Aerial operations
United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Balloons


Selected Books

Block, Eugene B. Above the Civil War: the story of Thaddeus Lowe, balloonist, inventor, railway builder.  Berkeley, CA, Howell-North Books, 1966. 188 p.

Crouch, Tom D. The eagle aloft: two centuries of the balloon in America.  Washington, Smithsonian Institution Press, 1983. 770 p.
   Bibliography: p. 721-731.
   TL618.C76 1983 <SciRR>

Davis, Burke.  Runaway balloon: the last flight of Confederate Air Force One. New York, Coward, McCann & Geoghegan, c1976. 45 p.
   Recounts the brief and near-disastrous history of the balloon created by the Confederate army to spy on Federal troops who had used the same means to observe Southern troop movements.
   For Young Readers.
   E546.7.D38 1976

Dutcher, Russell K. Union Army balloon corps: operations during the War of the Rebellion, 1861-1863. Westminster, MD, Heritage Books, 2009. 186 p.
   E492.7.D87 2009

Evans, Charles M. The war of the aeronauts: a history of ballooning during the Civil War. Mechanicsburg, PA, Stackpole Books, c2002. 358 p.
   Bibliography: p. 338-343.
   E493.7.E93 2002

Haydon, Frederick Stansbury. Military ballooning during the early Civil War. Baltimore, Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000. 421 p.
   Includes bibliographical references.
    “Originally published as Aeronautics in the Union and Confederate armies, with a survey of military aeronautics prior to 1861, vol. 1, by the Johns Hopkins Press, 1941.”
   E492.7.H3 2000

Lowe, T. S. C. The balloons with the Army of the Potomac. In The photographic history of the Civil War: thousands of scenes photographed 1861-1865, with text by many special authorities. v. 8. Francis Trevelyan Miller, editor-in-chief. New York, The Review of Reviews Co., 1911. p. 369-382.
   E468.7.M64 1911
   Also available in digital format:

Lowe, T. S. C. Memoirs of Thaddeus S. C. Lowe, chief of the aeronautic corps of the Army of the United States during the Civil War: my balloons in peace and war. Edited by Michael Jaeger and Carol Lauritzen. Lewiston, New York, Edwin Mellen Press, c2004. 214 p. (Studies in American history, v. 53)
   Bibliography: p. 209-210.
   E467.1.L59A3 2004

Lowe, Thaddeus S. C. A balloon trip from Cincinnati, Ohio to South Carolina, in April 1861. In Aero Club of America. Navigating the air; a scientific statement of the progress of aëronautical science up to the present time. New York, Doubleday, Page & Company, 1907. p. 127-156.
   Also available in digital format:

Sims, Lydel. Thaddeus Lowe: Uncle Sam’s first airman. New York, Putnam, c1964. 223 p.
   Bibliography: p. 215-218.

Wise, John. Through the air: a narrative of forty years’ experience as an aëronaut. Philadelphia, etc., To-day Publishing Company, 1873. 650 p.
   TL515.W55 1873

Selected Journal Articles

Beaumont, F. E. On balloon reconnaissances as practised by the American Army. In Great Britain. Papers on subjects connected with the duties of the Corps of Royal Engineers. New series, v. 12, 1863: 94-103.
   Also available in digital format:

Cooney, Charles. The Army takes to the air: a balloonist’s autobiography. Civil War times illustrated, v. 24, Sept. 1985: 26-31.

Glassford, W. A. The balloon in the Civil War.; Journal of the Military Service Institution of the United States, v. 18, Mar. 1896: 255-266.
   Also available in digital format:

Hassler, William W. Professor T. S. C. Lowe: a personality profile. Civil War times illustrated, v. 6, May 1967: 12-21.

Hennessy, Juliette A. Balloons and airships in the United States Army, 1861-1913. Aerospace historian, v. 16, winter 1969: 42-47.

Hennessy, Juliette A. Balloons and airships: United States Army air arm, April 1861 to April 1917. Aerospace historian, v. 17, spring 1970: 38-49.

Hilt, Thomas. Naval aeronautics in the Civil War: naval-associated operations of observation balloons; part 1. AAHS journal, v. 54, winter 2009: 297-306.

Hilt, Thomas. Naval aeronautics in the Civil War: naval-associated operations of observation balloons; part 2. AAHS journal, v. 55, spring 2010: 24-34.

Lowe, T. S. C.  Observation balloons in the Battle of Fair Oaks. American review of reviews, v. 43, Feb. 1911: 186-190.
   Also available in digital format:

Rhees, William Jones. Reminiscences of ballooning in the Civil War. Chautauquan, v. 27, June 1898: 257-262.
    Also available in digital format:

Squires, J. Duane.Aeronautics in the Civil War. American historical review, v. 42, July 1937: 652-669.


Additional Sources

Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress
Sample search term: Balloon

American Memory: Civil War Maps, History of Mapping the Civil War- Field Reconnaissance

Man, Moment & Machine. Lincoln and the Flying Spy Machine.
Produced by A&E Television Networks with the History Channel, 2006. DVD. Available for viewing by appointment at the Library of Congress Motion Picture/ TV Reading Room.

National Air and Space Museum: Thaddeus Lowe & Civil War Ballooning
Tom Crouch, senior curator for aeronautics, gives a presentation about Civil War ballooning, along with images and additional resources on ballooning.

Prints & Photographs Online Catalog, Library of Congress
Sample search terms: Thaddeus Lowe or Civil War and Balloon

Thaddeus Lowe Papers, American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, Aeronautic Archives, container 82, "Sketches and Drawings" folder, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress.

Tissandier Collection on the History of Aeronautics, 1539-1929, Library of Congress, Manuscript Division.
Digital Finding Aid available.

For additional accounts of balloon reconnaissance consult the Civil War Manuscripts: a Guide to the Collections in the Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress. (PDF 4.20 MB)

Compiled by Jennifer Harbster, July 2011

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