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Lowe's telegraph from his ascended balloon convinced President Lincoln that balloons would be valuable to the war effort.
In 1861 Thaddeus Lowe went to Washington, D.C. to convince the Union Army and President Abraham Lincoln of the value of using hot air balloons in the war effort. Unfortunately, the military officers did not understand the advantage the balloons could provide. Lowe was determined, however, to prove to the President that balloons would be a valuable addition to the Union Army.
Lowe ascended in his balloon from the grounds of the Smithsonian Institution and sent the first telegraph from an aerial station on June 18, 1861. Lowe typed to Lincoln in Morse code:
“Sir: This point of observation commands an area nearly 50 miles in diameter. The city with its girdle of encampments presents a superb scene. I have the pleasure in sending you this first dispatch ever telegraphic from an aerial station.”
After this demonstration of aerial reconnaissance Lowe was commissioned by the Army to help in the war.
Unfortunately, soon afterward Lowe’s plans to build more balloons and portable gas generators were rejected. The Army had replaced Lowe with a competitor, John Wise. Undaunted, Lowe continued to prepare for the war effort ready to step in if and when the Army needed him. When Wise failed to successfully launch a balloon Lowe was called in to replace him on very short notice.
This note from Abraham Lincoln dated July 25, 1861, says: "Will Lieutenant General Scott please see Professor Lowe over more about his balloon?"
Lowe's first misson was to take Wise's place doing reconassiance near the future site of the Battle of Bull Run. However, when he arrived the troops were already leaving so he decided to go back to Washington to spy on the Confederates from the sky. During one of his aerial ascents he thought he spotted Rebel troops getting ready to attack the Union troops. The Army agreed that Lowe could fly over enemy territory to see if any troops were preparing to attack. In late July Lowe launched his balloon from Washington and flew over Confederate territory. After spying on the enemy and learning that the Confederates had no plans to attack, his balloon flew off course and he was forced to land behind Confederate lines. His wife, disguised as an old woman, rescued him by hiding her husband and his equipment under a tarp. She was able to drive the wagon back to Union lines without arousing the suspicion of the enemy troops. When Lowe returned to Washington, General McDowell was so impressed that he recommended that Lowe establish a balloons corps.
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