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How Did Hot Air Balloons Affect The Civil War?

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Were Hot Air Balloons Used During The Civil War?

Most people think of hot air balloons as a peaceful relaxing sight, but they were once used during the civil war as weapons.

Hot air balloons were used by both the Union army and confederates during the civil war to spy on each other and monitor movements, they would then signal or send telegraphs to the military on the ground to pass on information.

We’ve put together an informational article below which will explain how the hot air balloons were used during the civil war, what the hot air balloons were like, who invented the balloons for use during the civil war as well as some interesting facts about them to give you more background history.

How Were Hot Air Balloons Used During The Civil War?

Hot air balloons were mainly used for spying during the civil war, they were only tethered about 1000 feet from the ground but were great for spotting enemies for miles around. The union army in particular has a dedicated balloon corp and used hot air balloons much more.

Lowers balloon from the corp has numerous attempts at it to be shot down but survived the shots.

What Were The Hot Air Balloons Like During The Civil War?

The hot air balloons used during the civil war are not like modern hot air balloons, these balloons had about 32,000 cubic meters of gas room for their largest types and the gas was provided by hydrogen-generating inflation wagons.

Most balloons during the war could carry up to five people in total while some only had a single person carrying baskets, they were all tethered to the ground for safety. There was one incident where the ropes snapped on Lowe’s hot air balloon and it drifted over the confederate line.

Who Invented The Idea Of Hot Air Balloons For The Civil War?

The idea of using hot air balloons during the civil war came from Thaddeus Lowe, he essentially made the balloon corps for the union and maintained all the balloons as well as controlled them.

Its original idea however came from Maj. Alexander McCook during the 1800s proposed using hot air balloons when the US started to lose the war with the confederates.

Interesting Facts About Hot Air Balloons & The Civil War

To understand more about hot air balloons and the confederates we’ve listed out some of the main facts to do with them below.

  • Balloon operations were very difficult – The process of lifting a balloon and filling it with gas was not an easy job, most gears was transported by train, wagon and ship, making it a timely process.
  • They were always tied to the ground – All hot air balloons used during the civil war were tied down, this is so they could be used for stationary spying, the wind however was distracting since the balloons were not drifting in motion.
  • It was stopped in 1863 – Although balloons were a huge part of the civil war, their use slowly fizzled out due to the effort involved in 1863.
  • The confederates shot at the balloon – It was a ritual for confederates to shoots at the union balloon from Lowes in Yorktown, the balloon survived these attacks, however.
  • These were not stealthy – Although used for spying, hot air balloons were not stealthy, they often had very bright colours and were always in view to seem intimidating.

Frequently Asked Questions About Hot Air Balloons & The Civil War

Who was the first person to invent hot air balloons? 

The first hot air balloons were invented by the Montgolfier brothers and took off in Paris during the year 1783.

Was a weapon ever fired from hot air balloons? 

No, hot air balloons were used for spotting and location observing often, they were not used as a way to fire at the opposing enemy due to distance from the front line.

Were hot air balloons ever used during world war I?

Yes, some hot air balloons were also used during world war I for observation, some were also used to drop bombs on the enemy.

How many balloons did the union army have?

The union had around 1,200 balloons during the war with 600 used as support for the military.

Final Words

Overall, hot air balloons affected the civil war since they allowed both the confederates and union to spy on each other, with them being much more prevalent in the Union with their balloon corps. These hot air balloons were not flown however, they were used from observing from heights only.

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