Civil War 150
New Hampshire

Gen Porter's Civil War aerial adventures

Visitors to the Fitz John Porter Civil War exhibit at Strawbery Banke Museum -- and his statue in Haven Park, Portsmouth (just a block away) will learn an unusual fact: Gen Fitz John Porter was an avid advocate for aerial surveillance and went aloft in a hot air balloon more than once to observe enemy troop formations and their movements.


Porter’s own field glasses, borrowed from the museum at Manassas Battlefield National Park, are displayed in the exhibit and one of his ascents, field glasses in hand, is depicted in one of the bronze panels at the statue’s base.

The story of this incident is that Porter had climbed in the basket, deployed at the front at

Yorktownand the tether line broke, sending him aloft and over Confederate lines. As snipers sought his range, he was able to climb the rigging to close the hot air valve and bring the craft back to earth. The Jefferson, New Hampshirenative behind this state of the art platform was Thaddeus Lowe.

  • 17 Jun 2011 11:00 PM | Anonymous

    The Mongolfier brothers in France are credited with being the first to have the idea of using hot air balloons for aerial observation. They made the first human flight on October 25, 1783; and by November 19, 1783 their first free flight had an army officer aboard.

    Thaddeus Lowe undoubtedly worked from their inspiration -- and 100 years ago June 5, 1861, Lowe arrived in Washington for an appointment with the Secretary of the Treasury, Salmon Chase. Lowe would demonstrate this fine-tuned aerial surveillance capability to Lincoln on June 18, 1861, taking a telegraph aloft with him


    His message from Lincoln read:

    "To the President of the United States Sir: This point of observation commands an area of nearly 50 miles in diameter. The city with its girdle of encampments presents a superb scene. I have pleasure in sending you this first dispatch ever telegraphed from an aerial station and in acknowledging indebtedness for your encouragement for the opportunity of demonstrating the availability of the science of aeronautics in the service of the country." The next day Lowe had a letter from Lincolnand was authorized to form a balloon corps for the use of the army.

    Not only Porter but another Portsmouth-born solider Amiel Weeks Whipple (who had lived in the house now open to the public as Warner House) is recorded to flown in Lowe's balloons during the Civil War. Capt. Whipple was one of the officers to make aerial observations over

    Falls Church VAand found the new device so useful he began contractual discussions with Lowe for the implementation of balloon surveillance.
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