By Steven Drew Culpepper
Master’s Thesis, U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, 1994
Abstract: This historical study investigates the military effectiveness and combat power of Civil War balloons. The categories inherent to military effectiveness include timeliness, accuracy, usefulness, operational considerations, and logistics. Limited by available material, especially those documenting Confederate efforts, this paper highlights the history of ballooning prior to the Civil War, and focuses on the Union balloon operations during the initial fall and winter of 1861-2, the Peninsular campaign, and Chancellorsville. The analysis of the measures of effectiveness from these three periods indicates the Union balloon corps amply validated its worth. War, however, is more than just a science. In this case, the “art” of warfare better explains the collapse of Thaddeus Lowe’s organization after Chancellorsville. The first.two modern implications of this case study involve both the unfavorable impact of personality, and the commander’s influence on the assimilation of new technology. Are we better today at bringing on line the benefits associated with technology? The final point links to the concept of battle command. With the massive infusion of information available to the modern commander, are we still sending him to the lions without a whip?
Introduction: The significance of controlling the skies over a modern battlefield lies in the decisive tactical advantage that it yields to the controlling side. This ability to control and use airspace was developed through successful implementation of technology over time. Eyes gave way to field glasses to extend the range of the observer. Eventually came the transformation of electromagnetic and acoustic energy into electronic signals which facilitated electrical scanning of the battlefield. Today, advanced signal processing, which enhance the signal to noise ratio (SNR) even further, power the way to even greater detection ranges. In between these two periods came attempts to elevate the eyes of the observer.
The concept of manned flight has captivated man’s thinking for centuries. It was only natural that his thoughts should turn to application of manned flight for military purposes. The shots fired on Fort Sumter in April 1861 signalling the beginning of the American Civil war, occurred sixty-eight years after the initial use of the balloon for military observation. How well did the Union and Confederate armies bring this relatively new technology to bear?
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