On June 18, 1861, Thaddeus S.C. Lowe sent the following telegraph to President Abraham Lincoln from his hot air balloon, the Enterprise, 500 feet above the White House:
“This point of observation commands an area nearly fifty 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 to your encouragement for the opportunity of demonstrating the availability of the science of aeronautics in the service of the country.”
The demonstration helped sell the president on the usefulness of geospatial intelligence – aerial reconnaissance coupled with other intelligence sources and a knowledge of the terrain – to the Union army’s efforts during the Civil War. One month later, Lowe was appointed the chief Aeronaut of the newly-created Union Army Balloon Corps – with a fleet that eventually grew to include eight balloons.
One of Lowe’s earliest achievements as head of the Balloon Corps came when he ascended more than 1,000 feet above Arlington, Virginia, on Sept. 24 to pinpoint Confederate troops more than three miles away in Falls Church. After locating the enemy, the Union army was able to accurately fire without setting sight on their opponent – a first in the history of warfare.