Saturday, November 12, 2011

November 12, 1861 (Monday): Naval Aviation's Humble Beginnings

Mattawoman Creek and Freestone Point (Click to Enlarge)

Washington, D. C., November 12, 1861.
Lieutenant-Colonel COLBURN:
    DEAR SIR: I have the pleasure of reporting the complete success of the first balloon expedition by water ever attempted. I left the navy-yard early Sunday morning, the 10th instant, with a lighter (formerly the G. W. P. Custis) towed out by the steamer Coeur de Lion, having on board competent assistant aeronauts, together with my new gas generating apparatus, which, though used for the first time, worked admirably. We located at the mouth of Mattawoman Creek, about three miles from the opposite or Virginia shore. Yesterday I proceeded to make observations, accompanied in my ascensions by General Sickles and others. We had a fine view of the enemy's camp-fires during the evening, and saw the rebels constructing new batteries at Freestone Point. I was under the necessity of returning for some necessary articles this morning, and will go back immediately to continue in person the reconnaissance.
    After making all necessary arrangements below, and leaving a competent aeronaut and assistants in charge, I shall return and place the other balloons wherever the general desires them. I have now a competent aeronaut for each of the new balloons, and in the course of a few days they can all be in active operation. I will call and see you on my return.
    Your obedient servant,
                                                                      T. S. C. LOWE,

Series III., Vol. 3, Part 1, Page 266

Among the many first of Thaddeus Lowe was the first baloon launch from a naval vessel, with his baloon being launched from the steamer Couer de Lion.  Lowe's observations had significant military value, but his services would be cut when the government balked at the his salary.   

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