Balloons in War

Posted on Fri, March 3, 2017

Having watched the first humans rise into the air, Benjamin Franklin predicted that the new invention would have considerable military value, enabling an aerial view of an enemy’s army for “conveying intelligence into, or out of, a besieged town, giving signals to distant places, or the like.” France put theory into practice by creating the Aerostatic Corps during the Revolutionary Wars. T. S. C. Lowe organized a much more ambitious Balloon Corps for the Union armies during the American Civil War. European observers, noting the role that balloons had played in the US, were inspired to organize military aeronautical units in their nations. 

  • War scene using balloons.

    A fanciful print suggesting an aerial invasion of Great Britain.

    Divers Projets sur la descente en Angleterre
    Etching, French, c. 1803 

  • Colorful etching of warfare with a balloon.

    The Army of Revolutionary France first used observation balloons during the Battle of Fleurus in 1794.

    Hand-colored etching, French, no date

  • Balloon in the distance with a small camp in the foreground.

    An observation balloon over a French camp at the time of the battles of Fleurus and Charleroi.

    Miniature watercolor painting on paper in a circular metal frame. French, 18th-19th century

  • Colorful scene

    Victoire Remportée à Fleurus, par Les Français, le 26 Juin 1794, ou 8 Messidor An 2eme de la République.

    Etching, French, 18th-19th century

  • Three officers in the foreground with balloon in background

    Battalle de Fleurs

    Colored lithograph, French, 19th century

  • Troops fight.

    T.S.C.’s Balloon Corps in combat during the Peninsula Campaign.

    The Battle of Fair Oaks, VA May 31st 1862
    Currier and Ives Lithograph, 1862, American

  • War scene with balloon in the background.

    A comment on the French use of balloons to carry mail and government officials over the German lines and out of besieged Paris during the Franco-Prussian War.

    On Aurait Pu Profiter du Passage du Ballon-Poste Pour Surprendre L'Ennemi. (“We could have taken advantage of the passage of the postal balloon to surprise the enemy.”)
    Lithograph, French, 1870-71

  • Cards

    Collecting cards depicting an incident during the Battle of Bac-Ninh near Hanoi, Vietnam on March 12, 1884, in which a local governor and his rabbits are frightened by the approach of a balloon carrying French troops.

    Lithograph collecting cards, French, c. 1884

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