U.S. Corps of Topographical Engineers

 

recon
D. H. Strother poked fun at the new technology

 

 

The Topographical Engineer Balloon Corps

Reports of Professor Thaddeus S. C. Lowe

 

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WASHINGTON, D.C., May 26, 1863.

 

Honorable E.M. STANTON,

Secretary of War:

SIR: In accordance with your request I have the honor to submit the following report of my operations in the department of aeronautics, as connected with the military service of the Government:

Balloons have been employed for many years for the purposes of amusement or experiment, but they have never been constructed of durable materials, nor combined those qualities essential for frequent or long-continued observations, or for transportation from place to place, until the present war. The French were the first and only nation to make any use of this important means of securing information of the position and movements of an enemy, and even the imperfect apparatus they employed secured great advantages to them on two occasions. One of these was in June, 1794, when they were used for reconnoitering the position of the Austrians at the battle of Fleurus; the other was at the battle of Solferino, in 1859.

For nearly ten years my attention has been given to the subject of aeronautics, and I have made large expenditures in practical experiments to perfect and develop the system. Notwithstanding the fact that balloons were first invented in 1782, but little had been subsequently done to improve them. Various inventions of air ships had come into notice and proved to be impracticable, although the possibility of devising a means of navigating the air with safety was believed by many. Fully convinced of this myself, and that science and skill would produce the long- desired invention, I constructed a large balloon in 1859 for experiments, preliminary to an attempt to cross the Atlantic. This balloon when filled with gas would lift more than twenty tons in weight. The envelope alone weighed two and a quarter tons. Though treated as a vigorously by the unthinking and by the timid, I received substantial aid and support from some of the most eminent scientific men of the country, and was thus encouraged to labor or in improving and perfecting every part of my apparatus, so that no reasonable ground of doubt should exist as to the ultimate success of the experiment.

In December, 1860, I presented the following memorial to the Smithsonian Institution, which I take the liberty of including in this report as an evidence of the favor with which any my enterprise was looked upon by the distinguished men whose names are subscribed to it:


 

PHILADELPHIA, December -, 1860.

Prof. JOSEPH HENRY,
Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.:

The undersigned, citizens of Philadelphia, have taken a deep interest in the attempt of Mr. T.S.C. Lowe to cross the Atlantic by aeronautic machinery, and have confidence that his extensive preparations of effect that object will add greatly to scientific knowledge. Mr Lowe has individually spent much time and money in the enterprise, and in addition the citizens of Philadelphia have contributed several thousand dollars to further his efforts in demonstrating the feasibility of trans-Atlantic air navigation. With reliance upon Mr. Lowe and his plans, we cheerfully recommend him to the favorable consideration of the Smithsonian Institution, and trust such aid and advice will be furnished him by that distinguished body as may assist in the success of the attempt, in which we take a deep interest.

JNO. C. CRESSON.

WILLIAM HAMILTON.

W.H. HARRISON.

[AND THIRTEEN OTHERS.]

 

 

The Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, to whom the memorial was referred, gave it a careful consideration, and although he did not recommend the appropriation of any of the funds of the Institution to assist me in constructing the balloon, stated the following as the result of his investigation:


 

It has been fully established by continuous observations collected at this Institution for ten years, from every part of the United States, that, as a general rule, all the meteorological phenomena advance from west to east, and that the higher clouds always move eastwardly. We are, therefore, from abundant observation, as well as from theoretical considerations, enabled to state with confidence that on a given day, whatever may be the direction of the wind at the surface of the earth, a balloon elevated sufficiently high would be carried easterly by the prevailing current in the upper or rather middle region of the atmosphere.

I do not hesitate, therefore, to say that, provided a balloon can be constructed of sufficient size and of sufficient impermeability to gas, in order that it may maintain a high elevation for a sufficient length of time, it would be wafted across the Atlantic. I would not, however, advise that the first experiment of this character be made across the ocean, but that the feasibility of the project should be thoroughly tested and experience accumulated by voyages over the interior of our continent.

 

 

In accordance with the last suggestion made by Professor Henry, and to remove all doubts from the minds of those who voyage too great, I made ascensions from points in the West, and had demonstrated the truth of my propositions, when the breaking out of the rebellion turned the thoughts of all loyal Americans to the State of the country. Feeling assured that I could render essential service to the Government in its time of need, and that my inventions would be appreciated by those who were in authority, I left Philadelphia on the 5th of June, 1861, for Washington, taking with me a new balloon with which I had made a voyage on the 20th of April of the same year from Cincinnati, Ohio, to the coast of South Carolina, from 4 a.m. to 1 p.m. of the same day, a distance of over 900 miles, in nine hours.

On arriving in Washington I immediately called on Professor Henry, who at once perceived the importance and value of my proposed operations. He had repeated interviews with the President of the United States, the Secretary of War (Mr. Cameron), and the officers of the Topographical Engineer Corps, and strongly urged the trial of experiments with my balloon to test its adaption to the great work in which we were engaged. Discouragement and difficulty attended every effort, however, to secure attention; but finally, through the influence of Professor Henry, to whose disinterested and persevering support is in a great measure due the introduction of aeronautics into the military service of the United States, I was enabled to make preliminary experiments with the balloon I had brought to Washington.

The balloon was inflated from one of the gas mains in the Armory grounds, and repeated ascensions were made from that place, from the Smithsonian grounds, and from the front of the Executive Mansion. For the first time telegraphic communication was established between a balloon and the earth, and a message was sent to the President of the United States and others while at an elevation of a thousand feet.

For a detailed account of these experiments I have the honor to refer to the following [letter from] Professor Henry, [under whose] supervision they were made:

 

SMITHSONIAN INSTITUTION,

June 21, 1861.

 

Honorable SIMON CAMERON:

DEAR SIR: In accordance with your request made to me orally on the morning of the 6th of June, I have examined the apparatus and witnessed the balloon experiments of Mr. Lowe, and have come to the following conclusion:

1st. The balloon prepared by Mr. Lowe, inflated with ordinary street gas, will retain its charge for several days.

2nd. In an inflated condition it can be towed by a few men along an ordinary road, or over fields, in ordinarily calm weather, from the places where it is filled to another, twenty or more miles distant.

3rd. It can be let up into the air by means of a rope in a calm day to a height sufficient to observe the country for twenty miles around and more, according to the degree of clearness of the atmosphere. The ascent may also be made at night and the camp lights of the enemy observed.

4th. From experiments made here for the first time it is conclusively proved that telegrams can be sent with ease and certainly between the balloon and the quarters of the commanding officer.

5th. I feel assured, although I have not witnessed the experiment, that when the surface wind is from the east, as it was for several days last week, an observer in the balloon can be made to float nearly to the enemy’s camp (as it is now situated to the west of us), or even to float over it, and then return eastward by rising to a higher elevation. This assumption is based on the fact that the upper strata of wind in this latitude is always flowing eastward. Mr. Lowe informs me, and I do not doubt his statement, that he will on any day which is favorable make an excursion of the kind above mentioned.

6th. From all the facts I have observed and the information I have gathered I am sure that important information may be obtained in regard to the topography of the country and to the position and movements of an enemy by means of the balloon Mr. Lowe is well qualified to render service in this way by the balloon now i.

7th. The balloon which Mr. Lowe now has in Washington can only be inflated in a city where street gas is to be obtained. If an exploration is required at a point too distant for the transportation of the inflated balloon, an additional apparatus for the generation of hydrogen gas will be required. The necessity of generating the gas renders the use of the balloon more expensive, but this, where important results are required, is of comparatively small importance.

For these preliminary experiment, as you may recollect a sum not to exceed $200 or $250 was to be appropriated, and in accordance with this Mr. Lowe has presented me with the inclosed statement of items, which I think are reasonable, since nothing is charged for labor and time of the aeronaut.

I have the honor to remain, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

JOSEPH HENRY,

Secretary Smithsonian Institution.

 

 

On the evening of the 21st of June I received a telegram from Captain Whipple, of the Topographical Engineers, directing me to fill the balloon and to bring it, with the telegraphic apparatus, &c., to Arlington.

The gas could not be obtained from the Washington Gas Company until the following afternoon, when the balloon was inflated and taken across the Long Bridge to Arlington House, where, by order of Captain Whipple, it remained until the next morning at 4 o"clock, when I was ordered to take it to Falls Church. On arriving at the Alexandria and Loudoun Railroad I learned from the guards that there were no pickets out in the direction we were going. There being no other route by which the balloon could be towed, on account of the woods, and knowing the importance of observations from Falls Church, the balloon was let up by ropes to a sufficient height to ascertain that it was safe to proceed. We then advanced two miles farther, to Bailey’s Cross-Roads, where I was informed by the residents that a rebel scouting party had just left, having seen the balloon, and supposing that a large force accompanied it. After stopping a few minutes we proceeded to Falls Church, where the balloon was kept in constant use for two days more, during which time General Tyler sent up an officer who sketched a fine map of the surrounding country and observed the movements of the enemy. Captain Whipple and other officers also made several ascensions.

On the 26th of June I was informed by Captain Whipple that the Bureau of Topographical Engineers had concluded to adopt the balloon for military purposes, and desired me to furnish a full account of the method of operating the balloons in the field, and to make estimates for their construction, &c. The information I gave he noted down. The next day, upon calling on the captain to know what conclusion he had arrived at, I was informed that he had decided to give an order to Mr. Wise to construct a balloon, as his estimate was $100 or $200 less than mine, but that it was possible I might be employed to operate the balloon after it was made. To the latter part of his remarks I replied that I would not be willing to expose my life and reputation by using so delicate a machine, where the utmost care in construction was required, which should be made by a person in whom I had no confidence. I assured him that I had greater experience in this business than any other aeronaut, and that I would guarantee the success of the enterprise if instructed entirely to my directions.

Feeling confident of the ultimate result, and not being willing to abandon my cherished plans for the benefit of the Government after so much expenditure of time and my own means, I instituted a series of experiments, on my own account, in the Smithsonian grounds, which brought together many officers and scientific men, who strongly recommended the adoption of my system who witnessed these experiments was Captain Whipple, who, finding that the balloon ordered from Mr. Wise had not arrived at the time promised, desired me to transport my balloon, then inflated, with the army which was moving toward Manassas. My operations at this time are described in the following communication addressed to Major Bache, of the Topographical Engineers, to which I would call particular attention:


 

WASHINGTON, D.C., July 29, 1861.

 

Major BACHE,

Bureau Topographical Engineers:

SIR: Having spent two months in Washington for the purpose of demonstrating the utility balloon observations for war purposes, and thus far without any re-compense, I feel it my duty before retiring from the seat of war to make a statement of what I have done and what might and can be accomplished, provided the Government would furnish the necessary means, which at most is very small compared with the results that can be attained.

In the first place, the balloon which I have been compelled to use (for want of a more suitable one) was intended for making free voyages, in which comparatively but little strength is required, and not for the purpose of ascertain with ropes. On the 18th of June I inflated the balloon, and, with a telegraph apparatus attached, ascended with three persons and demonstrated the feasibility of communicating with the earth, which at times can be rendered very useful. This inflation lasted four days, although subjected to the pressure of several very heavy winds. Two days afterward the balloon was again inflated and transferred fourteen miles from the place of filling, and retained its charge for several days, during which time it was let up repeatedly, and on one occasion 1,000 feet with an officer, who sketched a map of roads and of the enemy’s camps at Fairfax Court-House. Much greater results could have been obtained by making a free voyage at an altitude of a mile or two and returning in the upper current toward Washington. I then gave it another coat of varnish, which much increased its retentive power, and demonstrated the utility of the balloon for the purpose of reconnaissance to a number of gentlemen of this city on the Smithsonian grounds. After this I suddenly required by Captain Whipple to fill my balloon and transport it into the interior of Virginia. Although this balloon was not intended for war purposes, and although I had cherished the hope of being directed to construct another, I concluded to do the best I could, and accordingly set about making the necessary preparations for the voyage; but when these were completed and I was ready to start, I was unable, on account of the absence of Captain Whipple, to procure the men and means for the inflation and transportation. Not being able to obtain assistance from Captain Whipple, who was then on duty, I concluded, on the advice of my friends, to inflate the balloon and procure men for its transportation on my own account, not doubting that my services would be properly appreciated; but to my disappointment I was informed by the director of the gas company that another balloon had arrived and was to be used instead of mine. On the receipt of this intelligence I removed my balloon from the inflating pipes, to give place to the other balloon, and ceased all further efforts until I was informed on Sunday, that the competing had proved a failure, and then being urged by several patriotic individuals, and hoping still to render some service to the army at Centerville or Manassas, I commenced on Sunday morning to make preparations for inflating and transporting my balloon, and on the evening of the same day started with it for Virginia. In this enterprise I was aided by the liberality of Colonel Small, who furnished me with his command for the purpose. Unfortunately, when we arrived at Falls Church I was informed of the retreat of the army, and thinking it useless to attempt to go farther, I concluded to remain there, even after all the troops had passed by and the midst of a drenching rain, with the hope that I might be of service in giving information as to the approach of the enemy; but as the pickets were withdrawn, I started again at 4.30 on Monday afternoon to return to Arlington, the rain continuing to fall in torrents, the wind against us, and arrived at Fort Corcoran at 8 o’clock the same evening with the balloon fully inflated after having been transported against a wind of considerable force, through a distance in all of about twenty miles, the latter half of which was in a violent rain-storm. I remained with the balloon at Fort Corcoran until Wednesday morning, and them, taking advantage of the favorable wearther, I ascended at 7.30 o’clock with an ascensional power of 500 pounds beyond the weight of the balloon itself. I obtained an altitude of about three and one-half miles and had a distinct view of the encampments of the enemy, and observed them in motion between Manassas Junction and Fairfax.

From the facts I have stated it must be evident to every one that the balloon can be rendered of essential service in the art of war, and that I have accomplished all I have undertaken without a single failure, with very imperfect means and with scarcely any aid from the Government.

Having thus given an account of what has been accomplished, I now proceed to furnish a statement of what might or can be done if proper facilities are afforded.

First. It is a very probable that balloons will be wanted for some time to come in the vicinity of Washington and Alexandria to watch the movements of the enemy and prevent a surprise. For this purpose the balloon now in my possession will answer very well until another can be procured. With it, almost every day or two, ascents can be made to a great altitude, affording an opportunity for several officers at the same time to observe, with good glasses, the position and movements of the enemy in perfect security, without risk of life or property.

Second. While the army is making preparation for another movement a lighter balloon, with portable apparatus, can by constructed in time to move with the troops, and be ready before and during an engagement to furnish the means of observations of the greatest importance.

Having made the necessary inquiries, I find that the required apparatus can be constructed by mechanics now in the Government employ in Washington; that the whole weight of material to inflate the balloon for several days" use will not exceed four tons, and can be carried in two or three wagons, and that the whole expense for inflating, aside from the apparatus, will not exceed $300, including transportation. a

It will not be necessary to use this method of inflation, excepting at a distance from was works too great to move an inflated balloon.

The same apparatus can also belong will probably be much wanted at Fortress Monroe, Norfolk, and Richmond, and many other places.

Should the Government conclude to adopt the above methods, and desire my services, I will give my plans in detail, and shall be pleased to carry them out. I can truly say that I have not, in my endeavor to introduce balloon observations into use in our Army, been governed by a desire for pecuniary gain, but I have been actuated by a wish to increase my reputation and advance the art to which I have devoted my life, by demonstrating its importance to the country in its present critical condition.

Hoping that if my services are further required, I may receive as early a notice as possible.

I remain, very truly, your obedient servant,

T.S.C. LOWE,

Aeronaut.

 

 

NOTE.-Since the portable gas generators have been introduced, the whole cost of materials for inflation does not exceed $75. The gas can be generated wherever it is wanted, much less time is required for inflation, and the balloon can be kept inflated for a month or much longer.

The ascension of the 24th of July, alluded to in the foregoing letter, was made in consequence of a report being circulated that the enemy was marching in force on Washington, which caused much excitement. The result of my observation, published the next day, showed this report to be untrue and restored confidence.

In this voyage I started soon after sunrise, while the atmosphere was clear, and sailed directly over the country occupied by the enemy, as the lower current was blowing toward the west. Having seen what I desired, I rose to the upper current and commenced moving toward the east again, until over the Potomac, when I commenced to descend, thinking that the under current would take me back far enough to land near Arlington House. When within a mile of the earth our troops commenced firing at the balloon, supposing it to belong to the rebels. I descended near enough to hear the whistling of the bullets and the shouts of the soldiers to ‘show my colors." As I had, unfortunately, no national flag with me, and knowing that if I attempted to effect a landing there my balloon-and very likely myself-would be riddled, I concluded to sail on and to risk descending outside of our lines. This I accomplished, and landed on Macon’s plantation, five miles and a half from Alexandria and two miles and a half outside of our pickets. A detailed account of my escape would be interesting, but it is sufficient to say that I was kindly assisted in returning by the Thirty-first Regiment New York Volunteers, and brought back the balloon, though somewhat damaged, owing to my having been obliged to land among trees. The balloon was generally supposed to be one of the enemy’s, and the authorities in Washington were telegraphed from Arlington to this effect.

On the 29th of July I received the following dispatch from Captain Whipple:

 

 

ARLINGTON, July 29, 1861.

 

T.S.C. LOWE:

If you will at once repair your balloon, and will superintend its transportation to this side of the Potomac, the United States will employ you temporarily as follows: The United States will pay for the gas used for the inflation, will furnish twenty men to manage the balloon, will pay you $30 per day for each day the balloon is in use for reconnaissance on the Virginia side of the Potomac. The balloon to be ready for use within twenty-four hours.

 

A.W. WHIPPLE,

Captain, Topographical Engineers.

 

 

In answer to this I informed Captain Whipple that I could not enter upon such an arrangement, but that if the Government would direct me to construct a balloon such as I deemed suitable for military purposes I would only charge $10 a day for my services, instead of $30, and would guarantee entire success. I also stated the cost of the new apparatus and the time required for its construction.

I, however, repaired the balloon, as desired by Captain Whipple, but while transporting it with inexperienced men a distance of ten miles over a rough road, where there were many obstructions, we were overtaken by a heavy storm and I was obliged to discharge the gas. In relation to this occurrence I beg leave to refer to the following letter from Professor Henry:

 

 

SMITHSONIAN INSTITUTION, August 2, 1861.

 

Captain A.W. WHIPPLE,

U.S. Army:

DEAR SIR: I regret much to learn from Mr. Lowe that you think of giving up the balloon operations, and I write to express the hope that you will make further attempts. A single successful observation will fully repay all that you have yet expended.

The experiment of Wednesday was rendered abortive by the accidental occurrence of a thunder-storm which could not be foreseen. At this season of the year thunder-storms occur generally in the after part of the day or night, and I would therefore advise that the balloon be filled immediately after the clearing off of the sky, and then used as soon as possible after daylight the next day.

Mr. Lowe came to this city with the implied understanding that, if the experiments he exhibited to me were successful, he would be employed. He has labored under great disadvantages, and has been obliged to do all that he has done, after the first experiment, without money. From the first he has said that the balloon he now has was not sufficiently strong to bear the pressure of a hard wind, although it might be used with success in favorable situations and in perfectly calm weather. I hope that you will not yet give up the experiments, and that you will be enabled with even this balloon to do enough to prove the importance of this method of observation, and to warrant the construction of a balloon better adapted to the purpose.

I remain, very truly, your obedient servant,

JOSEPH HENRY.

 

 

Up to this time I had used my own machinery, and had a party of persons constantly employed at my own expense to assist in the management of the balloon and to keep it in order.

On the 2nd of August I called on Major Hartman Bache and gave him a detailed account of what I had accomplished, also getting forth the advantages of using balloons, provided proper facilities were afforded. Upon this Major Bache gave me a letter to Captain Whipple, authorizing him to direct me to construct such a balloon as I desired; upon the receipt of which the latter gave me the following order and instructions:

 

 

HEADQUARTERS DEPARTMENT OF NORTHEASTERN VIRGINIA,

Arlington, August 2, 1861.

 

Mr. T.S.C. LOWE,

Aeronaut:

SIR: You are hereby employed to construct a balloon for military purposes capable of containing at least 25,000 cubic feet of gas, to be made of the best India silk, not interior to the sample which is divided between us, you retaining a part, with besof manila cordage from 1,200 to 1,500 feet in length. The materials you will purchase immediately, the best the markets afford and at prices not exceeding ordinary rates; and the bills you will forward to me through Major Hartman Bache, chief of the Corps of Topographical Engineers. When these materials shall have been collected at Philadelphia, where the balloon is to be constructed, you will report to me, that I may send an officer of the corps to inspect them. You need not, however, wait for the inspecting officer, but go on rapidly with the work, with the understanding that it may be suspended, provided that upon examination the materials or work prove unsatisfactory.

Your compensation from the day of collecting the materials and during the time of making the balloon shall be $5 per day, provided that a reasonable time be allowed for the collection and ten days for making. From and after the day that the balloon shall be ready for inflation at Washington, D.C., your compensation will be $10 per day as long as the Government may require your services.

Inclosed herewith is an order authorizing the purchase of materials necessary for the operation with which you are charged.

Very respectfully,

A.W. WHIPPLE,

Captain, Topographical Engineers.

[Inclosure.]

 

 

 

HEADQUARTERS DEPARTMENT OF NORTHEASTERN VIRGINIA.

 

Mr. T.S.C. Lowe, aeronaut, is hereby authorized to purchase 1,200 yards of best India silk and sufficient linen thread, cordage, &c., for the construction of a balloon, and all reasonable bills for the same, when presented to me through the Bureau of Topographical Engineers, will be paid.

 

A.W. WHIPPLE,

Captain, Topographical Engineers.

 

 

From this time until the 28th of August was consumed in the construction of the first substantial war balloon ever built.

The main obstacle to the successful use of balloons still had to be overcome, namely , a portable apparatus for generating the gas had already devised a plan for this purpose, but, as I could not then obtain an order to construct the apparatus, I was obliged to inflate the balloon as formerly in Washington, and to confine its operations to that locality. At this time I received the following orders from Major Woodruff and Captain Whipple:

 

 

WASHINGTON, D.C., August 28, 1861.

 

Mr. LOWE,

Balloonist, Washington, D.C.:

SIR: Get the silk balloon in readiness for inflation immediately. A detail of thirty men will repair to the Columbian Armory to aid you in the inflation and transportation of the balloon.

Respectfully, yours,

I.C. WOODRUFF,

Major, Topographical Engineers.

 

Inclosed is an order for gas.

 

I.C.W.

 

 

 

FORT CORCORAN, August 29, 1861.

 

Prof. T.S.C. LOWE:

The general desires you to be here at 3 a.m. to-morrow morning to make an ascension before daybreak to examine camp-fires, and ascend again as soon as it may be light enough to watch for movements of any bodies of men. Should I not be present please write the observation and send them to me by express at Arlington.

 

A.W. WHIPPLE,

Captain, Topographical Engineers.

 

 

These orders were complied with, and during my observations I discovered the enemy for the first time building earth-works on Munson’s Hill and Clark’s Hill, and also saw their movements along the entire line. In the afternoon I moved the balloon to Ball’s Cross-Roads and there took several observations, during which the enemy opened their batteries on the balloon and several shots passed by it and struck the ground beyond. These shots were the nearest to the U.S. capital that had been fired by the enemy, or have yet been, during the war.

From this time the balloon was kept in constant use and daily reports made to the commanding officers. I regret that I kept copies of but few of these, as at the time I did not consider that they would be required. Confidence in this new means of observation soon began to be manifested, and many officers made ascensions, among whom were Generals McDowell, Porter, and Martindale. On the 7th of September Major-General McClellan ascended and made an examination of the enemy’s works on Munson’s Hill and other points, a view of which it was impossible to obtain by any other means.

From this time to the 27th of September many alarms were given, and the troops called out in line of battle, and in every instance after an examination had been made by means of the balloon the troops were sent back to their quarters and allowed to rest without danger of being surprised.

Having only one balloon, I was necessarily compelled to lose some time to go to Washington for gas, which I invariably did, however, at night.

The following papers will indicate my operations to the 27th of September:

 

 

HEADQUARTERS PORTER'S DIVISION,

Fort Corcoran, Va., September 7, 1861.

 

Professor LOWE:

SIR: General Porter desires you to make a reconnaissance in your balloon as early as possible to-morrow morning. Be kind enough to send the result of your observation to General Porter, whether you discover anything of interest or not.

Very respectfully,

J.F. McQUESTEN.

 

 

 

BALLOON HEADQUARTERS, September 8, 1861.

 

Brigadier-General PORTER,

Commanding Division, Fort Corcoran:

DEAR SIR: According to your request I made two reconnaissances with the balloon this morning. The first a little after 4 o"clock. At that time no lights were visible in the west. At 5 o’clock one light to the right of Munson’s Hill and one at Taylor’s Corners appeared, which were all that could be seen. I ascended again at 6 o’clock and had a clear view of the works on Munson’s Hill, also Upton’s, but observed nothing unusual, the strong wind preventing me from attaining an altitude to observe with distinctness anything beyond these points. I will ascend again during the day and report to you.

Your obedient servant,

T.S.C. LOWE,

Aeronaut.

 

 

 

HEADQUARTERS PORTER'S DIVISION,

Fort Corcoran, Va., September 9, 1861.

 

Professor LOWE,

Fort Corcoran:

PROFESSOR: General McClellan desires you to transfer you balloon to the Chain Bridge early to-morrow to take observation. I have informed him you will inflate as early as practicable and move up to Chain Bridge. I am desirous to see your prosper, and I think you are now on the road. I have recommended an increase of two balloons and movable inflating apparatus, and as soon as the utility of the science is made apparent (which will depend on your energy) I have no doubt of success. Strike now while the iron is hot. I suggested your balloon should be sent up to Chain Bridge or its vicinity, and I doubt not General McClellan will be there, or others, who will work for you if they are satisfied of its utility. General Smith is in command, and I promise a good reception for you.

If I can aid you in any manner, don"t hesitate to call. I will be pleased to see you before you go over in the morning, and the result of your morning observation, which I beg of you to take.

I am, sir, with great respect, your obedient servant,

F.J. PORTER.

 

 

 

BALLOON HEADQUARTERS, September 9-2.30 p.m.

 

General PORTER:

I have just concluded another observation with the balloon and had a distinct view of Falls Church.

In answer to your inquiry, I can say that there is no appearance of the enemy in or about Falls Church other than has been reported before. Munson’s Hill and other places remain the same.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

T.S.C. LOWE.

 

 

 

FORT CORCORAN, September 11, 1861.

 

Professor LOWE:

I have nothing special. As your balloon is near Chain Bridge, I suggest you ask General Smith if he has anything. I presume if you can rise in the morning he would like it. You are of value now.

 

F.J. PORTER.

 

 

 

 

ARLINGTON, VA., September 16, 1861.

 

Brigadier General F.J. PORTER,

Commanding Division at Fort Corcoran:

SIR: In accordance with your request I herewith send a statement of what I should advise and deem necessary in addition to the means now at hand for the purpose of facilitating and making more frequent reconnaissance with balloons, and from various points at the same time, also for the purpose of being ready to accompany the army whenever a movement is made.

First. An addition of two balloons would be required, with capacities as follows: One of 30,000 cubic feet and one of 20,000 built of the best India silk and linen cordage, with all my late improvements and appliances. The cost of these air vessels complete will be, for the largest, $1,500; the smallest, $1,200.

Secondly. A portable inflating apparatus would be required for the purpose of inflating a balloon at any point where common, gas cannot be obtained, and also for the purpose of replenishing the balloons when the gas is partially expended. This would save the expense of an entire reinflation, and also keep the balloon ready for observation at all times; besides, the hydrogen being more buoyant than local gas, a greater altitude can be obtained.

The whole cost of this apparatus ought not to exceed $500, and can be built by ship carpenters and coppersmith now in the employ of the Government at Washington. The time required for getting up these balloons and apparatus will be about two weeks, perhaps less, should the weather prove fine while coating the material.

By being supplied with the above additional equipments I feel confident in being able to keep the Government constantly informed of the movements and position of the enemy, as well as the topography of the country. Wherever occasion requires, the balloons can also be used for letting up various colored signal lights at night, which can be made to burn for a long time, and consequently will be seen with more certainly than by any other meatfully, yours,

T.S.C.

 

 

 

HEADQUARTERS, September 20, 1861.

Brigadier General F.J. PORTER,

Commanding Division, Fort Corcoran:

DEAR SIR: I have just taken an observation from an altitude of 1,000 feet, and find the atmosphere uncommonly clear in the west. I shall move to the place where you first ascended, and would be pleased if you can come and go up with me. We may be able to discover something of interest.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

T.S.C. LOWE.

 

 

 

BALLOON HEADQUARTERS, September 22, 1861.

 

Brigadier-General PORTER,

Commanding Division, Fort Corcoran:

During my observation this evening I noticed a pretty heavy picket force on Upton’s Hill and several camp smokes at Taylor’s Corners. On the west slope of Munson’s Hill there appeared to be a full regiment with a set of colors, their bayonets glistening in the sun as if on parade. I could see nothing of the horses you spoke of, but as soon as I can get the balloon inflated again I will go nearer and examine the woods.

Very respectfully, yours,

T.S.C. LOWE.

 

 

 

CAMP ADVANCE, September 23, 1861.

 

General F.J. PORTER:

At about 8.30 to-morrow morning I wish to fire from here at Falls Church. Will you please send the balloon up from Fort Corcoran and have note taken of the position reached by the shell, and telegraph each observation at once.

 

W.F. SMITH.

 

 

 

HEADQUARTERS PORTER'S DIVISION,

Fort Corcoran, Va., September 24, 1861.

 

Professor LOWE:

SIR: By direction of General Porter I herewith inclose a telegram from General Smith. It explains itself. Two mounted orderlies will be sent you so that you can, with the assistance of your officer, report and send to these headquarters. During the time of fire it is very important to know much the shot or shell fall short, if any at all.

Very respectfully, yours,

J.F. McQUESTEN,

Lieutenant and Aide-de-Camp.

 

 

SEPTEMBER 24, 1861.

 

General F.J. PORTER:

If we fire to the right of Falls Church, let a while flag be raised in the balloon; if to the left, let it be lowered; if over, let it be shown stationary; if under, let it be waved occasionally.

 

W.F. SMITH.

 

 

 

HEADQUARTERS OF BALLOON,

Arlington, September 24, 1861.

 

Brigadier General F.J. PORTER,

Commanding Division, Fort Corcoran:

SIR: This evening I took the balloon out near Ball’s Cross- Roads and remained up nearly two hours. I had a distinct view of the works on a hill about one mile and a half beyond Munson’s Hill. There seems to be heavy guns mounted and a pretty heavy force near by. Several tents were visible about there and a number of bodies of men on parade.

To the left of a high bluff, and about ten miles distant to the left, or nearly in a line with Bailey’s Croos-Roads, there appeared to be a long line of smoke, as if there were several camps. The smokes of the enemy’s pickets are quite numerous and a large body of men were on Upton’s Hill, and also what appeared to be a field piece.

The whole distance from Chain Bridge to Falls Church is shown plainly from my new point of observation, and I think a shell could not be fired without seeing where it strikes.

Should it be convenient for you to come and go up in the morning the first thing, I think you will gain some valuable information.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

T.S.C. LOWE.

 

 

 

CHAIN BRIDGE, September 24, 1861.

 

General PORTER:

I am going to Lewinsville to-morrow (Wednesday). Will you let Professor Lowe up at 11, or little before, to watch the road from Falls Church and round to Lewinsville? Can"t practice at fort to- morrow.

 

W.F. SMITH.

 

 

 

CHAIN BRIDGE, September 25, 1861.

 

Professor LOWE:

General Smith desires you to go up in the balloon this morning to observe the movements of troops, although we will not fire from the fort. The general is going out with the command, and firing will only be done in case the enemy is met.

 

C. MUNDEE,

Assistant Adjutant-General.

 

 

 

SEPTEMBER 25, 1861.

 

PROFESSOR: Look out for a battle at Lewinsville, and movements between us and that point.

 

F.J. PORTER.

Send me word of anything important.

 

 

 

SEPTEMBER 25, 1861.

 

PROFESSOR: I am anxious about the movement from Chain Bridge. The enemy has moved north and has all his force between General Smith and Lewinsville, evidently to intercept his return.

I wish to get as much information of his movements, or what is transpiring, as possible before sundown. I expect the return of the enemy, and if much dust be visible wish to know it, that I may send out a force.

 

F.J. PORTER.

If you can get up against this wind, will be glad. An important move is on foot.

 

 

 

HEADQUARTERS OF BALLOON, September 25, 1861.

 

Brigadier-General PORTER,

Commanding Division, Fort Corcoran:

SIR: Soon after you departed I heard the report of three guns toward Chain Bridge. I ascended and remained up until 12 o"clock, during which time no more guns were fired. About three miles in advance of Chain Bridge I could distinguish the glistening of bayonets and quite a large body of men, in motion, but as they were going from the bridge I concluded they were General Smith’s forces.

The parade at the Seminary made a grand display, while on Munson’s Hill quite a large crowd were gathered. After descending I heard two more guns in the direction of the Chain Bridge, but the wind has arisen and prevents me from taking any observation at present. I am confident that there is no great movement on the part of the enemy, or I should have seen something of it, although the distance and heavy smoke are great obstacles to-day in that direction.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

T.S.C. LOWE.

 

 

 

QUARTERMASTER-GENERAL'S OFFICE,

Washington City, September 25, 1861.

 

Prof. T.S.C. LOWE:

(In care Major S. Van Vliet, senior quartermaster, Army of the Potomac, Washington.)

SIR: Upon the recommendation of Major-General McClellan the Secretary of War has directed that four additional balloons be at once constructed under your direction, together with such inflating apparatus as may be necessary for them and the one now in use. It is desirable that they be completed with the least possible delay.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

M.C. MEIGS,

Quartermaster-General.

 

 

On the 30th of September the balloon was taken to Upton’s Hill and used constantly, General McDowell, the Count de Paris, and other officers ascending with me and gaining much valuable information greatly needed at the time, as there was no other means of learning the position and movements of the enemy, and where an attack was expected. I received many complimentary remarks during the day from the officers, who were satisfied of the value of the balloon for reconnaissance.

From the 1st to the 12th of October the balloon was left in charge of an assistant while I was engaged in the construction of the balloons and gas generators ordered by the Secretary of War.

 

 

QUARTERMASTER-GENERAL'S OFFICE,

Washington City, October 1, 1861.

 

Lieutenant Colonel G.H. CROSMAN,

Deputy Quartermaster-General, Philadelphia, Pa.:

COLONEL: The Secretary of War having authorized Professor Lowe to construct four balloons for military purposes, you will pay for them, and such bills as may be made by him in their construction, the whole amount to be paid being about the sum he names as their cost, viz, for the two largest $1,500 each, and for the smallest $1,200 each.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

By order:

E. SIBLEY,

Brevet Colonel, U.S. Army, Deputy Quartermaster-General.

 

 

 

GENERAL McCLELLAN'S HEADQUARTERS,

Washington, October 12, 1861.

 

Professor LOWE:

General McClellan directs that you report yourself to General Smith at Johnson’s Mill. Be there sure to-morrow, Sunday night.

 

A.V. COLBURN.

 

 

In accordance with the above order I inflated the balloon the same evening and started at 9 p.m. Our progress was slow, the night being very dark, and we were constantly apprehensive of running the balloon against trees or other obstacles. After passing through Washington and Georgetown, crossing numerous flag ropes and telegraph wires stretched across the streets, we reached the road to the Chain Bridge. This was lined with trees and we were compelled to go across the fields, as the wind was too high to tow the balloon when elevated, and it soon became cloudy and so dark that it was with the utmost difficulty we advanced. At several points trees had to be felled to allow a passage for the balloon. We arrived at the Chain Bridge about 3 o’clock the next (Sunday) morning, and found it filled with artillery and cavalry going to Virginia. In order to take the balloon over my men were obliged to mount the trestle-work and walk upon the stringers, only eighteen inches wide and nearly 100 feet above the bed of the river. Thus, with the balloon above their heads, myself in the car directing the management of the ropes, the men getting on and off the trestle-work, with a column of artillery moving below, and 100 feet still lower, the deep and strong current rushing over the rocks, while the sky was dark above, the scene was novel, exciting, and not a little dangerous. At daybreak we arrived near Lewinsville, nearly exhausted by the excessive fatigue of the trip. Here a strong wind sprung up suddenly and I was obliged to lash the balloon with strong ropes to stumps in a field. In a few minutes the wind increased to a terrific gale, which continued for an hour, tearing up trees by the roots close to where the balloon was anchored. When the storm reached its height the cordage gave way and the balloon escaped. It ascended to a great height, and in less than an hour landed to the eastward on the coast of Delaware, a distance of about 100 miles, where I afterward obtained it. This gale proved the great strength of the balloon silk, and that the cordage was insufficient in comparison, although it was capable of bearing a strain of ten tons. I immediately ordered all the rest of the cordage used for my balloons to be made strong enough to resist a strain of twenty-five tons, which was proved sufficient to resist any gale thus far.

From this time to the 10th of November I was occupied in superintending the construction of balloons and gas generators. From the latter date to the end of the year the following reports and communications (to which I would call attention) embrace the principal operations in which I was engaged.

 

 

BALLOON EXPEDITION ON BOARD

U.S. STEAM TUG CcEUR DE LION,

Mouth of Mattawoman Creek, Sunday Evening, November 10, 1861.

 

Major-General HOOKER:

SIR: In obedience to orders of Major-General McClellan I have come to this place for the purpose of making an aromatic observation of the forces of the enemy. The balloon will be inflated immediately, so as to be ready for use early to-morrow morning.

Will you have the kindness to detail an officer to confer with me, so that I may make such dispositions and arrangements as will best enable me to accomplish the object for which I have been sent.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

T.S.C. LOWE,

Chief Aeronaut, U.S. Army.

 

 

 

NAVY-YARD,

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,

Aeronaut.

 

 

 

HEADQUARTERS OF THE ARMY ,

November 16, 1861.

 

Professor LOWE:

General McClellan desires me to say that he desires, to have the first balloon kept ready to be sent to Port Royal; the second one he desires to have sent to Brigadier-General Stone, at Poolesville as soon as it is ready.

I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

A.V. COLBURN,

Assistant Adjutant-General.

 

 

 

HEADQUARTERS OF THE ARMY,

Washington, November 16, 1861.

 

Professor LOWE:

General McClellan desires that you have a balloon ready to be taken to Port Royal by the first opportunity. It is impossible to tell exactly when it can be sent, but I will try to give you three or four days" notice.

Very respectfully,

A.V. COLBURN,

Assistant Adjutant-General.

 

 

A report was circulated that the enemy were advancing their forces, and I was ordered to make a reconnaissance, of which the following was the result:

 

 

NATIONAL HOTEL,

Washington, November 21, 1861.

 

Lieutenant Colonel 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 reinflame 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.

 

 

 

HEADQUARTERS OF THE ARMY,

November 22, 1861.

 

Prof. T.S.C. LOWE:

General McClellan desires that you send a balloon to Fort Monroe this evening or at least by to-morrow evening boat to go to Fort Royal. The transports will leave Fort Monroe day after to-morrow.

 

A.V. COLBURN,

Assistant Adjutant-General.

 

 

 

If Captain Craven can spare the Coeur de Lion, and Captain Dahlgren also, the Department agrees to allow her to take Professor Lowe to Old Point.

 

G.V. FOX,

Assistant Secretary.

 

 

 

WASHINGTON, November 23, 1861.

 

Major-General HOOKER,

Budd’s Ferry, Md.:

I start for Fortress Monroe to-morrow afternoon. Will take the balloon-boat down with me. Please inform me at what point I can anchor where it will be safe, and will be of the most service to you.

 

T.S.C. LOWE,

Chief Aeronaut, U.S. Army.

 

 

 

BUDD'S FERRY, November 24, 1861.

 

Professor LOWE:

The safest and most convenient place for anchoring your steamer will be about one mile below your former anchorage. The balloon is now near the Posey house, and it is from that point I desire to make the next ascension if agreeable to yourself.

 

JOSEPH HOOKER,

Brigadier-General.

 

 

 

OLD POINT, November 27, 1861.

 

Brigadier General T.W. SHERMAN,

Commanding Forces at Port Royal, S.C.:

SIR: By direction of General McClellan I send to your command a balloon and aeronautic in charge of Mr. J.B. Starkwearther, aeronaut, who will report to you for service. For the purpose of aiding in these operations Mr. Starkwearther will require thirty men and a good officer. Should it be necessary to take observations at various points, there will be required two ordinary army wagons to convey the gas generators and materials. Anything further that will be required will be made known by the aeronaut.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

T.S.C. LOWE,

Chief Aeronaut, U.S. Army.

 

 

 

HALL'S HILL, November 30, 1861.

 

Professor LOWE:

Promise of a fair day to-morrow. Your balloon is wanted, and it is of the highest importance that it should be here to take advantage of the first calm. Can it be here early in the morning? I will send in men now if you will send it.

 

F.J. FOSTER.

 

 

 

WASHINGTON, November 30, 1861-11.45 p.m.

 

Brigadier General F.J. PORTER,

Hall’s Hill, Va.:

Please send in the men and I will do my best to get the balloon there. The inflating apparatus, as fast as finished so far, has been ordered to other points, or I would make the gas on the ground; but for this time I must tow, it as soon as the men get there.

 

T.S.C. LOWE,

Aeronaut.

 

 

 

NOVEMBER 30, 1861.

 

General HOOKER:

General McClellan desires me to get a map of the enemy’s position opposite your command. Can you accommodate me by sending up a draughtsman, and forwarding the result to the general? This fine wearther will not last long. Please have the aeronaut improve every opportunity.

 

T.S.C. LOWE,

Chief Aeronaut.

 

 

 

WASHINGTON, December 1, 1861.

 

WILLIAM PAULLIN,

In Charge of Balloon, Budd’s Ferry:

Do not reinflame the balloon until it has another coast of varnish, unless it is perfectly tight. I will send you an assistant all the necessary articles to-morrow. Improve every calm from daybreak until dark. Examine the shore opposite Mattawoman Creek, and keep me constantly informed.

 

T.S.C. LOWE.

 

 

 

WASHINGTON, D.C., December 3, 1861.

 

Lieutenant Colonel A.V. COLBURN,

Assistant Adjutant-General:

DEAR SIR: I have the honor to communicate to you the disposition thus far of the new balloons is my charge. The balloon Constitution is at Budd’s Ferry-General Hooker’s division. The Washington, with gas generating apparatus and materials, is en route for Port Royal S.C. The Intrepid, of larger dimensions, is at General Porter’s division, Hall’s Hill. The Union, same size, is intended for Poolesville, and is now ready, but has been delayed at the navy-yard for work on gas- generating apparatus that was promised me three weeks ago. It was supposed to be a matter of economy to have this apparatus constructed at the navy-yard. This season of the year is not the most propitious for continued reconnaissances, but when all the work now under my supervision is completed, no favorable opportunity for observations, night or day, will be allowed to pass unimproved.

I have thus far exercised, and in the future shall continue to exercise, the most untiring diligence in the prosecution of the important labors intrusted to me; but, in my judgment, the interests of this branch of service require the immediate construction of two small balloons, for the following, among other reasons, which I herewith respectfully commend to your favorable consideration: When General McClellan recommended, and the Secretary of War ordered, the addition of four balloons, the possibility or probability of using either of them at the South was not considered; therefore, as the ample supply of coal gas at Washington justified me in doing, I made two of them of larger dimensions, so that being filled with coal gas they would economically accomplish the equivalent of the work expected from a smaller envelope filled with hydrogen, notwithstanding the difference in levity of the two gases. These two small hydrogen balloons, as compared with the larger ones, will be particularly serviceable at the present time, as they will require one wagon less each for moving generators, while the diminished amount of material required will also tax our transportation facilities to a much less extent.

Lastly, the most important advantage gained will be that a light balloon, of small dimensions, well filled with hydrogen, presents so much less surface to the wind, and can consequently be used in the heavier wearther. These qualities are embraced in the balloons Washington and Constitution.

Hoping the general will allow me to construct the two small balloons, while the larger ones are held in reserve as future contingencies may determine,

I remain, dear sir, very respectfully, LOWE.

 

 

 

WASHINGTON, D.C., December 10, 1861.

 

Lieutenant Colonel A.V. COLBURN,

Assistant Adjutant-General:

DEAR SIR: One of my assistants arrived this morning from General Hooker’s headquarters and reports that the balloon has been constantly used for the past week making observations of the enemy’s movement and position. A large number of ascension have been made, the aeronaut being accompanied by Colonel Cowdin, Colonel Small, and others. Colonel Small while up with the balloon made a very fine map of the enemy’s works and surrounding country, a copy of which is being prepared, and will be forwarded to headquarters.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

T.S.C. LOWE,

Chief Aeronaut.

 

 

 

WASHINGTON, D.C., December 16, 1861.

 

Lieutenant Colonel A.V. COLBURN,

Assistant Adjutant-General:

DEAR SIR: I returned yesterday from Poolesville, after stationing balloon and necessary inflating apparatus with General Stone’s division. This is the third of the new inflating apparatus which has been sent out, and three more are now ready to go as soon as the other two balloons are finished. I commenced inflation at Edwards Ferry on Friday at 4 p.m., and in three hours generated gas sufficient to lift 1,200 pounds.

On Saturday morning I ascended quite early and took an observation of the enemy’s country. Very few troops were visible, and these were scattered both up and down the river. We could see into nearly every street of Leesburg, but scarcely any troops were visible. The main body appears to be between Leesburg and Centerville-I should judge fifteen or twenty miles below the former-as camps and heavy smokes were quite visible in that direction.

Later in the day I ascended again, and a number of their tents which were visible in the morning inside of their earth- works between Edwards Ferry and Leesburg were taken down, and teams were observed moving toward the village of Leesburg.

In the afternoon I was accompanied in my ascension by General Stone, who added several points to his map. The balloon still remains inflated, and will be ready for use at all times, in charge of a competent assistant aeronaut. The balloon now located at Budd’s Ferry has been inflated over two weeks without any replenishing.

The communication of W.G. Fullerton, of December 2, in reference to photographic pictures taken from the balloon which was referred to me, has been examined, and I would say that the author advances no new ideas. As soon as other matters connected with the balloons are accomplished I shall give the photographic matter a thorough and practical test.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

T.S.C. LOWE,

Aeronaut.

 

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BIBLIOGRAPHY: Lowe, T. S. C., 1911, (in) The Photographic History of the Civil War. Volume IV, pp 369 - 382. Scott, Robert N. Lt. Col. (prepared by), The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Series I, Vols. 5, 11, 21, 25, 51; Series III, Vol. 1. Government Printing Office, WashingtonImages courtesy of the Library of Congress.

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