<< Thaddeus Lowe & Civil War Ballooning
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Lesson 4: Examining the sources and coming up with some answers
This section encourages students to look at the facts and come up with their own questions and answers.
Show these videos:
Just How Big was a Civil War balloon?
"Thaddeus Lowe" answers the question of how big the balloon being used during the reenactment compared to the Civil War Balloons.
Pictures for comparison
How did the balloons work?
The Army Balloon Corps balloons were tethered gas balloons, meaning that they were always attached to the ground. This caused two challenges: fuel source and transportation.
- Where did the gas come from? The first demonstration was on the National Mall near the public gas works—but how did they get gas out in the field?
- If the balloons did not fly, how did they get to their location?
Have students come up with a list of possible answers.
Then show the video:
How Do Gas Inflation Wagons Work?
(quick clip person explaining how Inflation Wagons work)
And give them the this image:
These inflation wagons processed sulfuric acid and iron filings, that when combined their chemical reaction produced hydrogen. Each balloon took three hours to inflate and used 1,000 pounds of iron filings and 40 gallons of sulfuric acid.
The balloons were taken from place to place either in carts or on a boat, the first aircraft carrier.
Do you think that Army Balloon Corp was successful? Cite your evidence.
Some things to think about when considering the success of the Army Balloon Corps:
Even if the person in the balloon had a good view how could they let the soldiers on the ground know about what they saw. There were telegraphs, which were a new invention, and signal flags, but no telephones or e-mail.
It took at least 20-30 people to deploy one balloon. Imagine you are a General in a war that isn't going very well for you. What might you think about how you delegate your resources?
Thaddeus Lowe and the other aeronauts were government contractors. Do you think that might influence the opinion of some of people in command?
The balloons were visible to the enemy. The were not easy to shoot down (Civil War guns couldn't fire that far, and cannons could not be maneuvered to shoot that high). However, they were very vulnerable as they were being deployed. Do you think the visibility was a help or hindrance to the soldiers? Think about this from the point of view of both the Union and Confederate armies.
Balloons could be slow to get from place to place—or even to get into position to spy in the enemy. There were a lot of challenges but, this was one of the first times that people have had a "birds eye" view of troop movement. In what ways do you think the Balloon Corps could assist the troops?
What about the Confederates?
Show this video:
Did the Confederates Have Balloons?
"Thaddeus Lowe" talks about the Confederate Balloons.
And show them this object:
What does knowing that the Confederates wanted to have a Balloon Corp of their own make you think about the perceived success of the of the Union Army Balloon Corp?