1902 Encyclopedia > Aeronautics > Balloons in the American Civil War. Ballons in the Siege of Paris, 1870-71.

(Part 38)

Balloons in the American Civil War. Ballons in the Siege of Paris, 1870-71.

In the late American war balloons were a good deal used by the Federals. There was a regular balloons staff attached to M'Clellan's army, with a captain, an assistant, and about 50 non-commissioned officers and privates. The apparatus consisted of two generators, drawn by four horses each; two balloons, drawn by four horses each, and an acid-cart, drawn by two horses. The two balloons used contained about 13,000 and 26,000 feet of gas, and the inflation usually occupied about three hours. (See Captain Beaumont's Account, vol. xii. of the Royal Engineers' Papers.) We are not aware of the value set by the officers in command on the information obtained by this means; but as we believe balloons were employed till the conclusion of the war, it is clear that some importance was attached to their use. In 1862 or 1863 one or two experiments to test the use of balloons in making reconnaissances were made at Alder-shot, but nothing came of them.

When the Montgolfiers first discovered the balloon, its great use in military operations was at once prophesied; but these anticipations have not been realized. On the other hand, however, there can be no doubt that the balloons has never had a fair trial, being viewed coldly by officers enamoured of routine, and when used, being often left unsupplied with suitable appointments. It is probable that a future still remains for the balloon in this direction.

The paramount value of the balloon during the recent siege of Paris must be fresh in the minds of all. It was by it alone that communication was kept up between the besieged city and the external world, as the balloons carried away from Paris the pigeons which afterwards brought back to it the news of the provinces. The total number of balloons that ascended from Paris during the siege, conveying persons and dispatches, was sixty-four-the first having started on September 23, 1870, and the last on January 28, 1871. Gambetta effected his escape from Paris, on October 7, in the balloon Armand-Barbes, an event which doubtless led to the prolongation of the war. Of the sixty-four balloons only two were never heard of; they were blown out to sea. One of the most remarkable voyages was that of the Ville d'Orleans, which, leaving Paris at eleven o'clock on November 21, descended fifteen hours afterwards near Christiania, having crossed the North Sea. Several of the balloons on their descent were taken by the Prussians, and a good many were fired at while in the air; but we do not hear of any being injured from this cause. The average size of the balloons was from 2000 to 2050 metres, or from 70,000 to 72,000 cubic feet. The above facts we have extracted from Les Balloons du Siege de Paris, a sheet published by Bulla & Sons, Paris; compiled by the brothers Tissandier, well-known French aeronauts, and giving the name, size, and times of ascent and descent of every balloon that left Paris, with the names of the aeronaut and generally also those of the passengers, the weight of dispatches, the number of pigeons, &c. Only those balloons, however, are noticed in which some person ascended. A similar list of sixty-two balloons is given by Mr. Glaisher in the introduction to the second edition of Travels in the Air (1871). It was, however, published too soon after the conclusion of the siege to be quite so complete as the sheet of the MM. Tissandier.

It is perhaps worth stating that the balloons were manufactured and dispatched (generally from the platforms of the Orleans or the Northern Railway) under the direction of the Post-Office. The aeronauts employed were mostly sailors, who did their work very well. No use whatever was made in the war of balloons for purposes of reconnaissance. The exceedingly important part played by the balloon in the siege of Paris would alone, if it had been of no other utility, render it one of the most valuable inventions of the last century.

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