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Home > Fact Sheets > Military Ballooning: The American Civil War


Posted 4/1/2009 Printable Fact Sheet

The Union
Military ballooning in the United States began early in the Civil War. Balloons gave the Union the ability to view enemy troops from the "high ground" during a battle. Best known of the "aeronauts" was Thaddeus S.C. Lowe. He and others made numerous observations using hydrogen-filled balloons during the first two years of the war. At one time the Union Army had seven balloons in service. Due to the lack of cooperation by the Army, Lowe resigned in May 1863, and all ballooning ceased the following month, thus depriving the Union of a useful military tool.

The Confederacy
The Confederates also realized the value of aerial reconnaissance. It is often stated that the sole Confederate balloon was fabricated of silk from dresses donated by Southern ladies. Actually, the South had at least three balloons in service, one of cotton and two made from new bolts of silk of various colors. The South's inability to produce hydrogen in the field, along with material shortages, forced the Confederates to abandon balloon operations in 1863.

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