Cover image for The war of the aeronauts : a history of ballooning during the Civil War
The war of the aeronauts : a history of ballooning during the Civil War
Evans, Charles M., 1963-
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
Mechanicsburg, PA : Stackpole Books, [2002]

Physical Description:
x, 358 pages : illustrations, maps ; 24 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
E492.7 .E93 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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The Union Army Balloon Corps holds a significant place in the annals of Civil War and military history. From 1861 to 1863 the corps contributed invaluable surveillance and reconnaissance information to the Union Army's war effort during the Virginia campaign. It also accomplished such significant military feats as the initial air-to-ground communication by telegraph, the first use of the "aircraft carrier" for launch of the balloon, and the first artillery barrage directed by an aerial observer where gun batteries were unable to see their targets from the ground. This book traces the history of the intrepid airborne force, from its creation by pioneer balloonist Thaddeus Lowe to its unceremonious disbanding in 1863.

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

This is the first book since F. Stansbury Haydon's 1941 Aeronautics in the Union and Confederate Armies to treat extensively the brief but important contributions of ballooning to the war efforts of both sides. The chief man behind the push to use balloons as military reconnaissance weapons was Prof. Thaddeus S.C. Lowe, one of America's premier early aeronauts. Working against a hidebound military uninterested in balloons, Lowe managed to convince President Lincoln of their possible military uses and became the head of a small group of aeronauts who worked with the Union Army of the Potomac. The group surveyed by air the Confederate defenses and troops in northern Virginia during the fall of 1861 through the spring of 1862 and proved of some use during the siege of Yorktown. Lowe persevered with his balloons until the late spring of 1863, when the balloon corps was shunted aside by officers not interested in this innovation; it ceased to exist after Lowe resigned and went home. Evans, founding curator of California's Hillier Air Museum, describes Lowe's introduction of air to ground communications (via telegraph), successful launchings of balloons from ships and an air-directed artillery barrage. The brief operations of a Confederate balloon corps in 1862 is also covered. With Haydon's book long out-of-print, Evans's insightfully written volume, which includes 60 illustrations and three maps, helps fill a gap in existing Civil War literature, but will excite only Civil War and aeronautics buffs. (July) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Choice Review

An account of the history of Civil War aeronauts was last attempted by Eugene Block in Above the Civil War: The Story of Thaddeus Lowe (1966). Evans surpasses that attempt in this more scholarly, better researched, and more serious, yet eminently readable book. Balloons had been used militarily since 1793, first in the French Revolutionary Wars. Offered pioneer balloonist Thaddeus Lowe's services, the Union accepted his skills and balloons and soon found his observations useful. In fact, even generals went aloft with him to verify what he was reporting. But his success ran up against bureaucratic stiffness. After Antietam, Lowe was dismissed, never having gained the military commission he sought and deserved. His legacy lived on, not only in the work of his assistants, but also down through WW I, in tethered observation balloons. Lowe also influenced the Confederacy, which put up its own "silk dress" aerostat, but only briefly. All levels and collections. R. Higham emeritus, Kansas State University