Monday, April 20

What Happens When Your Balloon is Too Lowe

Image = Armyhistory.org
By Art Cashin

On this day in 1861, in the cold pre-dawn air near Cincinnati, Thaddeus Lowe climbed into the basket of his large hot-air balloon, the Enterprise. Lowe was already famous in the aeronautic and scientific community as an expert on hot-air (ballooning that is).

But while he was an expert as an aeronaut, as a weatherman he was a schnook. About 20 minutes into the flight, he got picked up by gale force winds that ran nearly 80 mph. On this particular day, the jet stream had developed a sense of humor and swept Lowe (and balloon) all the way to South Carolina. What he thought was a military honor guard out to greet him was in fact a rebel patrol out to arrest him. (Lowe was unaware that the Civil War had started a few days earlier.)

Released when local scientists vouched for his credentials (and his eccentricity), Lowe headed north. But he was smitten by the image of spies in a balloon - peering down on rebel defenses.
He helped found and direct the "Aeronautic Corps. of the Army of the Potomac".

Assuming the wind was right, he or his associates would fly high over enemy lines in a tethered balloon and telegraph directions back down to the Union artillery. The corps made over 3000 such flights and were sometimes shot down. (Lowe was so valuable he was rescued by commandos when that happened to him.) While he survived the war intact, he is believed to have been shot at more often than anybody else in the whole war. Luckily, there were no ground to air missiles at the time.


Many thanks to Mr. Cashin and UBS Financial Services who graciously allow his historical musings to be republished on this site. To enjoy more of Art's posts simply click on "Cashin's Comments" in the label section on the sidebar.

1 comment:

  1. It strikes me as mildly ironic that his experience in North Carolina is what gave him the idea to create airborne observation. Thank you for sharing.

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