Use of Balloons for Military Purposes: Battle of Fleurus; Battle of Solferino.
The balloon had not been discovered very long before it received a military status, and soon after the commencement of the French revolutionary war an aeronautic school was founded at Meudon; Guyton de Morveau, the chemist, and Colonel Coutelle being the persons in charge. Four balloons, were constructed for the armies of the north, of the Sambre and Meuse, of the Rhine and Moselle, and of Egypt. In June 1794 Coutelle ascended with the adjutant and general to reconnoiter the hostile army just before the battle of Fleurus, and two reconnaissances were made, each occupying foru hours. It is generally stated that it was to the information so gained that the French victory was due. The balloon corps was in constant requisition during the campaign, but it does not appear that, with the exception of the reconnaissances just mentioned, any great advantages resulted, except in a moral point of view. But even this was of importance, as the enemy were much disconnected at having their movements so completely watched, while the French were correspondingly elated at the superior information it was believed they were gaining.
An attempt was made to revive the use of balloons in the African campaign of 1830, but no opportunity occurred in which they could be employed. It is said that in 1849 a reconnoitering balloon was sent up from before Venice, and that the Russians used one at Sebastopol.
In the French campaign against Italy in 1859 the French had recourse to the use of balloons, but this time there was not any aerostatic corps, and their management was entrusted to the brothers Godard. Several reconnaissances were made, and one of especial interest the day before the battle of Solferino. No information of much importance seems, however, to been gained thereby. The Fleurus reconnaissance was made in a balloon inflated with hydrogen gas, while at Solferino a fire-balloon was employed. Each system has its advantages and disadvantages; the gas-balloon requires several hours for inflation, but then it can remain in the air any length of time; the fire-balloon can be inflated rapidly, but it will not stay in the air more than five or ten minutes unless a furnace is taken up, the use of which is impracticable in even a moderate wind; besides, the fire-balloons must be of very large dimensions, and only one person could, as a rule, ascend at a time, and he would have to be occupied with the fire: the use of fire-balloons also is always attended with some danger. M. Eugene Godard, who was engaged in the management of the balloons in the Italian campaign, wrote to the times, in August 1864, expressing his opinion of the superiority of fire-balloons for war purposes, as they are so easily inflated and are not destroyed or compelled to descend even if pierced by several balls; and this was also, we believe, the opinion of the Austrians who made experiments with war balloons.
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