PROFESSOR THADDEUS LOWE

 

THE CIVIL WAR YEARS

 

Balloon Corps Placed Under Ignorant Captain by General Hooker - 1863

 

Memoirs of Thaddeus Lowe, page 148

 

    And right here I would like to say that what delays, annoyances etc. fell to my lot while connected with the army, came through by being a civil employee. From the first I had hoped to be allowed to organize the balloon corps as a military branch and applied for a commission to command it. But all that "the powers that be" would do, was to grant me the courtesy title of Colonel and accord us the privileges of that rank but not the authority. Consequently I was subject to every young and inexperienced lieutenant or captain, who for the time being was put in charge of the Aeronautic Corps. These young fellows had no knowledge whatever of aeronautics and were often a serious hindrance to me rather than a help.

 

Memoirs of Thaddeus Lowe, pages 167-176

 

    I can hardly conceive anymore vivid illustration of how the nation was hampered by impossible public servants, than to give some of my experiences as a civilian serving under Captain Comstock and others.

   

    On the April 7th, this gentleman came into the arena, and I received the following order:

 

HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF THE POTOMAC,
Camp near Falmouth, April 7, 1863.

SPECIAL ORDERS No. 95.

 

12. Capt. C. B. Comstock, Corps of Engineers, is assigned to the immediate charge of the balloon establishment, and hereafter no issues or expenditure will be made on account of the same, except upon requisitions and accounts approved by that officer.

 

By command of Major-General Hooker:
S. WILLIAMS,

Assistant Adjutant-General.

Professor LOWE.

 

 

ARMY OF THE POTOMAC,
Near Falmouth, April 9, 1863.

Capt. C. B. COMSTOCK,
Corps of Engineers, Army of the Potomac:

       

    CAPTAIN: I am notified by a copy of Special Orders, No. 95, of April 7, 1863, that the balloon establishment is placed in your charge. Will you therefore please inform me of what duties I am expected to perform under your direction, that I may know how to proceed without conflicting with your arrangements?

 

I remain, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
T. S. C. LOWE.

 

 

HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF THE POTOMAC,
April 10, 1863.

Hon. P. H. WATSON,
Assistant Secretary of War:

     

    SIR: In view of the present situation of our forces in the vicinity of Charleston and Baton Rouge, I would respectfully beg leave to submit the following statement.

   

    I have a faithful person (aeronaut) who has been operating under my direction in this department for over a year; therefore, inasmuch as I have another assistant and some soldiers whom I have instructed sufficiently to help manage the balloon here, Mr. Allen--the person alluded to--could be spared for one of the other places. A complete set of apparatus is ready and can be shipped at short notice if required. The balloons here are constantly ready, and are used nearly every day more or less, and I have made preparation to render the utmost service at the next battle.

   

    The report that you requested from me is in progress and will soon be completed. It required more time than I at first supposed.

 

I remain, with great respect, your most obedient servant,
T. S. C. LOWE,

Chief of Aeronautics, Army of the Potomac.

 

 

CAMP NEAR FALMOUTH, VA., April 12, 1863.

Capt. C. B. COMSTOCK,
Corps of Engineers:

    

CAPTAIN: Between 5 and 7 o'clock this p.m. I made two ascents with the balloon near White Oak Church, and obtained a very good view of the enemy's camps for a distance of about five miles.

   

    Beyond that distance the atmosphere was quite smoky. Along the ridge for a distance of about seven miles the enemy's camps are quite numerous, the heaviest being southwest, south, and southeast from where the balloon is anchored. From appearances I should judge they are fully as strong as ever. A clearer atmosphere, however, will enable me to form a better idea of their relative strength, &c.

 

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
T. S. C. LOWE.

 

        On the 12th of April, I received the following order and instructions, which considering the services I had rendered for two years and the experience I had acquired, I respectfully submit to the Honorable Secretary were as unnecessary as they were unexpected.

 

HEADQUARTERS, ARMY OF THE POTOMAC, April 12, 1863

 

Mr. T. S. C. LOWE, &c.:

  

    As I informed you yesterday, I do not think the interests of the public service require the employment of C. Lowe, your father, or of John O'Donnell. Please inform me whether you have, as desired, notified them of the fact.
       

    I also stated to you that it might be necessary for the public interest to reduce your pay from $10 to $6 per day. I also mentioned some general rules to be observed by all civil employés connected with the balloons. Some of them are repeated here, and you will please notify your subordinates of them: No absences from duty without my permission will be allowed, and pay will be stopped for the time of absence.
       

    In camp, when the wind is still, ascensions should be made at morning, noon, and night, the labor being equally divided among the aeronauts, and reports made to me in writing of all that is observed during the day. If anything important was observed it should be reported at once. These reports should give the bearings of the important camps observed, and the camps should be numbered from right to left, No. 1 being on the right. You, as having larger experience, are expected to make these ascensions frequently, and to be responsible that no camp disappears and no new one appears without its being reported at once. You will also be held responsible that the apparatus is kept in good order; that the aeronauts attend to their duty; that the necessary requisitions are sent in for supplies, and generally for the efficiency and usefulness of the establishment, as well as its economical management.

 

Very respectfully,
C. B. COMSTOCK,

Captain of Engineers and Chief Engineer Army of the Potomac.

       

    I asked you yesterday for an inventory of all public property under your charge. Please send it to me to-morrow.

 

 

CAMP NEAR FALMOUTH, VA., April 12, 1863.

Maj. Gen. D. BUTTERFIELD,
Chief of Staff, Army of the Potomac:

       

GENERAL:

    From a copy of Special Orders, No. 95, April 7, 1863, I am informed that the balloon establishment is placed in charge of Capt. C. B. Comstock, Corps of Engineers, to whom I reported immediately on receipt of the above order. In conversation with him yesterday I learned that different arrangements were to be made, and among other things he informed me that my compensation for services were reduced from $10 per day to $6. This Captain Comstock does, I have no doubt, in good faith, and from the view which he takes of this department as it now stands. Now, in justice to myself and the service in which I am engaged, I beg to submit the following succinct statement.


    At the breaking out of the rebellion I was urged to offer my services to the Government as an aeronaut. I did so, at the sacrifice of my long-cherished enterprise in which I had expended large sums of money and many years hard labor, and which, if successful, would compensate me for my expenditure and place aeronautics among the first branches of useful science.
   

    (The enterprise above alluded to could not now be revived, except under the most favorable circumstances.)
       

   During my first operations for the Government I had three competitors in the field and many more applicants. I used my own machinery and expended considerable private means, and two months' labor, for all of which I have never received pay.
       

    My system of aeronautics was selected, and I was offered $30 per day for each day I would keep one balloon inflated in the field ready for officers to ascend. (This was when it was supposed balloons could not be kept constantly inflated, as is now the case.) I declined this offer and offered my services for $10 per day, as I desired to continue during the war and add to my reputation; besides, that amount would be sufficient to support my family.

 

   Ever since then I have labored incessantly for the interest of the Government, and I have never shrunk from duty or danger whenever it was necessary to gain information for the commanding general.
       

   For nearly two years, aside from doing all the business of this department, I have made frequent personal reconnaissances and have attended to the management of several balloons for different officers to ascend until within the past two or three weeks, during which time I have been occupied by order of the Secretary of War in preparing a history of this branch of the service, &c., at the same time keeping an eye to the proper management of the balloons, which have been kept in constant use, attended by my assistants.
       

   General, I feel aggrieved that my services should not have been better appreciated. As it is, I cannot honorably serve for the sum named by Captain Comstock without first refunding to the Government the excess of that amount which I have been receiving ever since I have been in the service. This my very limited means will not allow, for it requires full the salary I have received to support myself in the field and my family at home; therefore, out of respect to myself and the duty I owe my family, it will be impossible for me to serve upon any other conditions than those with which I entered the service. Notwithstanding, as I have promised the commanding general that nothing should be lacking on my part to render the greatest possible service during the next battle, and as I consider that all should be done that genius can devise to make the first move successful, I will offer my services until that time free of charge to the Government.

 

I remain, general, with great respect,
T. S. C. LOWE,

Aeronaut.

 

            The following are five [four] endorsements made upon the foregoing document.

 

HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF THE POTOMAC, April 13, 1863.

   

    Respectfully returned to Professor Lowe, to be forwarded through the proper channel to Captain Comstock, chief of engineers.

 

    By command of Major-General Hooker:
 

S. F. BARSTOW,
Assistant Adjutant-General.

 

 

CAMP NEAR FALMOUTH, VA., April 13, 1863.

       

    Respectfully forwarded to Capt. C. B. Comstock, chief engineer, Army of the Potomac. It was supposed that this was properly addressed, and I take pleasure in rectifying the mistake.

 

T.S.C. LOWE,
Aeronaut.

Army Potomac, 1863 (Enclosed)

 

       

Camp near Palmouth, April 13, 1863.

T.S.C. Lowe,

Chief of Aeronautics.

 

    Relative to the reduction of pay from $10 to $6 per day, it being impossible for him to remain in service on that reduction.

 

    Offers his services during the coming engagements free.

 

    Respectfully forwarded. It is believed that during the two years Mr. Lowe has been receiving $10 per day for his services he has been compensated for the sacrifices made, and that $6 per day is ample payment for the duties he has to perform at present.

 

C. B. COMSTOCK,
Captain of Engineers and Chief Engineer Army of the Potomac.

 

 

HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF THE POTOMAC, April 15, 1863.

   

    Respectfully returned. See indorsement of Captain Comstock, Engineer Department, in charge of balloons.

 

    By command of Major-General Hooker:
 

S. WILLIAMS,
Assistant Adjutant-General.

 

 

WAR DEPARTMENT,
Washington City, April 13, 1863.

 

T. S. C. LOWE, Chief of Aeronautics, Headquarters Army of the Potomac :

       

SIR:

    The Secretary of War directs me to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of the 10th instant stating that you can spare an experienced aeronaut, should his services be required in the vicinity of Charleston or Baton Rouge, and that a complete set of balloon apparatus is ready and can be shipped at short notice. In reply the Secretary directs me to instruct you to have all necessary preparations completed as soon as possible. You will advise this Department of the weight and bulk of the apparatus and supplies, and also when and from what point the aeronaut you recommend will be ready to start.

 

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
P. H. WATSON,

Assistant Secretary of War.

 

 

CAMP NEAR FALMOUTH, VA., April 19, 1863.

Respectfully referred to Gen. S. Williams, assistant adjutant-general.
       

    The within has been complied with, and Mr. James Allen named as the person that could be spared, inasmuch as I have another person to take his place here, and he would be best suited for another point.
       

    In my judgment the above arrangement will not in the least interfere with the successful operations of the balloons in this army. Therefore I would respectfully recommend that Mr. Allen be ordered to report for the above duty at once.

 

Very respectfully,
T. S. C. LOWE,

Chief of Aeronautics, Army of the Potomac.

 

 

HEADQUARTERS, ARMY OF THE POTOMAC, April 19, 1863.

       

    The accompanying communication is respectfully returned to Professor Lowe, to be forwarded through Captain Comstock, engineer, who is in charge of the balloon department.

 

    The commanding general desires to be informed why the letter to the Secretary of War, to which the answer is in reply, was not transmitted through headquarters.

 

By command of Major-General Hooker:
S. WILLIAMS,

Assistant Adjutant-General.

 

 

CAMP NEAR FALMOUTH, April 20, 1863.

Capt. C. B. COMSTOCK,
Chief of Engineers, Army of the Potomac:

       

CAPTAIN:

    According to your directions, I referred the inclosed letter from the Assistant Secretary of War to General Williams, who has returned it with the accompanying note.
       

    In answer to the commanding general, why my letter to the Assistant Secretary of War was not transmitted through headquarters, I would respectfully state that I was not aware that it was customary to do so, and if in my zeal to render service to the Government I have overstepped the bounds prescribed by military law I can only say that it was unintentional.

 

I remain, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
T. S. C. LOWE,

Chief of Aeronautics, Army of the Potomac.

 

 

HEADQUARTERS, ARMY OF THE POTOMAC,
April 20, 1863.

       

    Respectfully forwarded, and endorsement of T. S. C. Lowe not approved.

 

C. B. COMSTOCK,
Captain of Engineers and Chief Engineer Army of the Potomac.

 

 

HEADQUARTERS, ARMY OF THE POTOMAC, April 20, 1863.

       

    On the 19th instant Mr. T. S.C. Lowe, aeronaut, informed me that he had been directed by the Honorable Secretary of War to send a balloon and aeronaut to Charleston, and that he had selected Mr. J. Allen. At my request he showed me the accompanying letter from the Assistant Secretary of War.
       

    I informed him that such orders should come to me from the adjutant-general of this army, and not from himself; that he, not being in charge of the balloon establishment, had not the power to change it; and that I did not think it consistent with the interests of this army to detach Mr. J. Allen from it at present. A balloon can be spared without detriment.

 

    Respectfully forwarded to adjutant-general, Army of the Potomac.


C. B. COMSTOCK,

Captain of Engineers and Chief Engineer Army of the Potomac.

 

HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF THE POTOMAC,
April 21, 1863.

 

    Respectfully returned. Captain Comstock will make the necessary arrangements for the balloon to be placed at the disposal of the War Department and advise the Assistant Secretary of War, as herein directed.
       

    If it is possible for him to spare an aeronaut he will name the one selected in his communication concerning the balloons.

 

    By command of Major-General Hooker:
 

S. WILLIAMS,
Assistant Adjutant-General.

 

 

 

    This was a new experience for me. Hitherto everything pertaining to my department was left my judgment especially when it referred to the disposition of the assistant Aeronauts engaged by me and the care and upkeep of the apparatus, and I had been accustomed to stationing men according to their special ability and every little while visited the different balloon stations. Occasionally I changed the men about sometimes by their request and sometimes as my own judgment dictated. This was my domain and my authority was supposed to be inviolate. It was the duty of the Officer in charge to take reports and see that I was provided with everything necessary and I accounted to him for all property in my possession. He was not supposed to direct the Aeronauts.


    With every balloon outfit were two instructed men and about fifty enlisted men. The two instructed men with me were Mr. C. Lowe, my father, and John O'Donnell. The care of the balloons, supervision of inflation, care of supplies, supervision of loading and unloading the wagons fell to them. One was my right hand and the other my left. The fifty enlisted men were simply helpers. And now comes someone utterly ignorant of aeronautics who autocratically countermands ever order I give and blocks every move I make, simply because he is clothed in a little bit of authority and thinks this is the way to show it. This instance of "red tape" was to be expected in the regular army, but aeronautics for military purposes was an entirely new thing, and I had frequently been addressed directly by the Secretary of War.


    When Comstock was appointed to the charge of the balloon department he was probably instructed to conduct it "as economically as possible." That was a stereotype phrase in the Army. That the department was already being conducted as economically as possible and that there is such a thing as wise economy and false economy never seemed to have entered young Comstock's head, and I knew that were he to persist in his overbearing attitude, it would be impossible for the aeronautic department to function efficiently. Then too, I regarded that attack on my salary as a reflection on my integrity and it became a matter of personal honor with me, and I did not intend to be placed in false position. However, I decided to do my best and fulfill my promise to General Hooker as we were facing a severe engagement.


    And now the Captain decided he would better seek a little information.

 

HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF THE POTOMAC,
April 19, 1863.

T. S. C. LOWE,
Chief Aeronaut:

        Please inform me what has been the custom when on the march. Have the balloon guard moved with the balloon trains? And are two escorts, namely, the two details we now have needed, or only one, or none, in case of a movement?
        Please let me know what material you think should go when we move.
        These things should all be thought of and arranged, my approval only being needed.

Very respectfully,
C. B. COMSTOCK,

Captain of Engineers and Chief Engineer Army of the Potomac.

 

INDEX PAGE

BEFORE THE WAR

CIVIL WAR YEARS

INVENTIONS AND INDUSTRY

NORRISTOWN PENNSYLVANIA YEARS

PASADENA CALIFORNIA YEARS

MOUNT LOWE RAILWAY

AFTER THE RAILWAY

LOWE FAMILY

BOOKS ABOUT LOWE

NEWSPAPER ARTICLES

EVENTS AND REUNIONS

ARTIFACTS AND HISTORY

ENCYCLOPEDIA BIOGRAPHY

ACCLAMATIONS AND AWARDS

LINKS TO OTHER THADDEUS LOWE WEBSITES