27 Mar 12
Then President Lincoln counted on two factors in his unshakable commitment to winning the Civil War and reuniting the Union: (1) superiority in numbers, and (2) technology. He had, at the beginning, badly underestimated Confederate resolve, as had nearly everyone else. Now, his goal was to bring to War to a successful conclusion as quickly as possible. Any inventor, any purveyor of new military technology, no matter how eccentric, could thus count on an audience with Lincoln!
One such was Thaddeus Lowe, scientist, inventor, meteorologist, balloonist, and enthusiastic patriot. In the summer of 1861, before the Battle of Ft Sumter, Lowe performed a spectacular demonstration in front of Lincoln and his staff, right on the White House Lawn. From high above in his balloon “Enterprise,” Lowe sent a brief telegraph message to an Earth-bound Lincoln. It had never been done before!
Lincoln was sold! He directed the formation of the “Balloon Corps” and put Lowe in charge. Lowe personally participated in the First Battle of Bull Run, and his new Corps later participated in Peninsular Campaign, under General George McClellan. He had several balloons, along with crews and ponderous hydrogen-gas generators. But, neither Lowe himself, nor any of his crew were officially “soldiers,” nor was Lowe ever commissioned, although he was paid at the rank of colonel. They were all “contractors,” and this dubious status generated a continuous “acceptance” issue with “Regulars.”
Lowe’s success was spectacular! Entire Confederate regiments predictably slowed to a standstill upon seeing one of Lowe’s balloons in the sky ahead of them.
But, Army bureaucracy soon got in the way. Despite Lowe’s contribution, McClellan’s Peninsular Campaign was a disappointing failure. Lowe’s balloons were subsequently reassigned to the Engineer Corps, who regarded them a bastard stepchild. Lowe still tried to educate commanders with regard to the value of his balloons, but found himself progressively marginalized.
By the summer of 1863, a frustrated and discouraged Lowe finally threw in the towel and resigned. His Corps was transferred to others who had no idea of what to do with it. Three months later, the Corps was disbanded. Later in the War, at Cold Harbor and Petersburg, Lowe’s balloons would have come in handy, but were no longer available!
Lowe himself subsequently went to California and became a millionaire, then lost it all, dying pennyless (of natural causes) in 1913, at the age of eighty.
One of Lowe’s enthusiastic assistants was a young German lad, named Ferdinand von Zeppelin!
“You will observe with concern how long a useful thing may be known, and exist, before it enjoys general acceptance”
You give the world the very best you have. In return, the world will kick you in the teeth! But, we really have no choice. Do we?
Don’t wait; don’t hesitate; don’t ask: don’t apologize; call their bluff, don’t look back.
And, don’t expect to be thanked!