President Abraham Lincoln approved the establishment of the Union Army Balloon Corps, an aerial reconnaissance group, in 1861, not long after the Civil War began. Balloonists were often carnival performers before to the war, but Thaddeus S.C. Lowe, an aeronaut, changed all that. Lowe was asked to show the President his ballooning prowess on July 11, 1861, as the President intended to employ hot-air balloons for aerial observation operations throughout the war.
Lowe demonstrated by climbing 500 feet into the air and communicating his observations to Lincoln’s staff by telegraph. Following the exhibition, Lincoln extended an offer to Lowe to become chief aeronaut of the Balloon Corps, which formally started operations in October. The idea was to obtain intelligence on the whereabouts of the Confederate Army and provide it to Union soldiers on the ground so they could fire on the army from a distance without ever having to see the enemy. Seven balloons made up the fleet by then, some of which were attached to Potomac River barges that functioned as early examples of the modern aircraft carrier. Several Union leaders, including General George B. McClellan, expressed concern about the safety of the balloons even though the monitoring proved to be advantageous strategically. On May 7, 1863, Lowe finally left his position, and the Balloon Corps was disbanded soon after.