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Civil War Ballooning: Topics in Chronicling America

During the American Civil War, balloons ascended towards the battlefield as a military tool for aerial observation. This guide provides access to material related to "Ballooning" in the Chronicling America digital collection of historic newspapers.


"A Civil War sketch drawn by an artist during the famous "Seven Days" campaign before Richmond showing Prof. Lowe taking the balloon Intrepid into the air for a scouting trip." May 31, 1931. Evening Star (Washington, DC), Image 80. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers.

A comical, controversial, yet useful instrument, hot air balloons were used throughout most of the war for reconnaissance on the enemy. With frequent mishaps, difficult weather, inter-Corps rivalry and, of course, enemy fire, these missions could prove a wild ride for the brave aeronauts. Read more about it!

The information in this guide focuses on primary source materials found in the digitized historic newspapers from the digital collection Chronicling America.

The timeline below highlights important dates related to this topic and a section of this guide provides some suggested search strategies for further research in the collection.


1861 The American Civil War begins and balloons become military tools for aerial observation.
June 1861 Professor Thaddeus S.C. Lowe makes his first experimental balloon ascension from the armory grounds at Washington. The balloon ascends 450 feet.
December 1861 John LaMountain experiments with Ballooning near Alexandria Seminary
June 13, 1862 An army correspondent for the Union credits ballooning for effectively helping General McClellan direct movement of artillery to win a battle.
September 4, 1862 Professor Lowe and a telegraph operator ascend an altitude of two thousand feet in a balloon while providing vital telegraph communication regarding the location and subsequent retreat of the opposing army to Richmond, Virginia.
June 6, 1863 Professor Lowe’s balloon gets shot down.
April 20, 1864 With the ballooning efforts declared failures, the equipment is sold off in an auction.