APL Colloquium

March 13, 2015

Colloquium Topic: Thaddeus Lowe: Mr. Lincoln’s Chief Aeronaut

At the outbreak of the Civil War, newspaper stories across the land literally pleaded with the government to employ the balloon as a weapon of war. Even before 1st Manassas aeronauts joined units or just came to Washington DC to volunteer for service. One such aeronaut, Thaddeus Lowe, distinguished himself on the National Mall, getting Lincoln’s attention long enough to prove that he and his balloon could contribute to the Union Army’s efforts to gather actionable intelligence. Lowe’s hard work paid off and he became Chief Aeronaut of the Balloon Corps. Once operational, the Balloon Corps grew to seven government balloons. Lowe spread these balloons along the Maryland-DC border with Virginia thereby providing observations of Confederate troop movements to Union military leaders. As a visible alarm system in the event of a Rebel invasion of Washington, Lincoln’s Air Force was one element of his strategy that calmed the public fears and created our nation’s 1st Air Force. Lowe’s Balloon Corps would fly more than 3000 times for reconnaissance, map making, artillery spotting, and was airborne during many battles in 1862 and 1863 when it was finally disbanded just before Gettysburg. In this presentation Jim Green will portray Thaddeus Lowe discussing many of this aeronaut’s unique and exciting Civil War experiences.

Colloquium Speaker: James L. Green

Dr. James L. Green received his undergraduate degree in astronomy, and his master's and doctoral degrees in physics, at the University of Iowa. He has pursued research in magnetospheric physics at NASA Marshall Space Flight Center and then at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland from 1980 to 2005. In 2006 he moved to NASA Headquarters in Washington DC as the Director of the Planetary Science Division. Although his day job involves NASA's robotic missions of exploration to other planets of the solar system, he has long had a passionate personal interest in the history of the Civil War and ballooning in particular.