Sunday, November 20, 2011

November 21, 1861 (Wednesday): Aerial Assessment of Confederate Troops Strength

National Hotel, Washington

                                                                                NATIONAL HOTEL,
                                                            Washington, November 21, 1861.
Lieut. Col. A. V. COLBURN:
   DEAR SIR: Yesterday I inflated one of the balloons, the Intrepid, and moved it to Minor’s Hill.  It being too late for taking observations last night, I ascended at daybreak this morning, and remained up until 8 o’clock, which was sufficient to ascertain that the enemy is not in force this side of Centerville.  Judging from our own camp-fires and smokes, I should say there may be three or four regiments at Fairfax Court-House; twice that number at Centerville and more at Manassas, but nothing like the amount of smokes from our own camps in General Porter’s division.
  Their line of picket smokes near the line of the Leesburg turnpike was quite regular, and occasionally pickets could be seen in the roads and clearings, but owing to the haziness of the atmosphere no moving bodies of troops or their tents were visible.  The balloon for the South is all ready.  Can you tell me from what place I shall ship the materials for making gas?  If from here I must have them sent from Philadelphia to this city, that they may be ready.
   I intend going down the river to-morrow to reinflate the balloon at Budd’s Ferry.  By that time the apparatus for Poolesville will be ready, and I will station one there also.
   Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
                                                                                T. S. C. LOWE.

Official Records, Series III, Vol. 3, Page 266.

Lowe’s ascents provided remarkably detailed intelligence and foreshadowed the use of aerial reconnaissance in World War One.  But the Union failed to exploit this advantage, mainly because authorities became concerned over the relatively minor costs of the operation.  The ascents were generally to about 1,000 feet.

No comments:

Post a Comment