From the Enterprise to President Lincoln in 1861 — Civil War Commemorative Gold Five-Dollar Coin

Today, the Civil War Commemorative Gold Five-Dollar Coin remembers when Professor Lowe sent his message from the Balloon “Enterprise” to President Lincoln on June 18, 1861.

From Flight Velocity by Arnold Samuelson, Chief Engineer, published in 1906:


Testing the Air Currents

As a result of this correspondence, Professors Henry and Lowe had many personal interviews, and at last, in accordance with Professor Henry’s suggestion, Prof. Lowe took one of his small balloons to Cincinnati and, after waiting until all the surface air currents from as far East as the Atlantic were reported blowing Westward, he made the ascent that was to demonstrate the existence of the permanent Eastward-flowing air current in the upper atmosphere.

Record Speed and Distance Trip

The trip then made was the record long distance and speed trip of the world at that time, for in nine hours he traversed 800 miles, landing near the South Carolina coast at about one p. m. of April 20, 1861, having left Cincinnati shortly after 3:30 in the early morning.

A full account of this trip is found on pages 127-156 in “Navigating the Air,” a volume published for the Aero Club of America by Doubleday, Page & Co., of New York. In this account the story is told of the suspicions of the Southerners into whose hands he fell, of his arrest as a federal spy, of the narrow escape he had from hanging and his ultimate release and return to Philadelphia.

Called Upon by President Lincoln

Fort Sumpter had already been fired upon, the rebellion was on, and he had seen the movement of troops towards the Southern Capital, Richmond.

He was thus able to give valuable information to President Lincoln, and when the latter learned of his aeronautic experiences he called upon him to organize an aeronautic corps for the U. S. Army and personally interested himself in seeing that his plans were carried out.

New Inventions

During these aeronautic experiences with the federal army Professor Lowe soon learned that the ordinary methods of balloon inflation were extravagant and wasteful and at times impossible for field service — extravagant and wasteful in that the uncoated gas envelope or balloon allowed the gas to escape in the course of a few hours, and impossible in that it was not always possible to get the balloons filled where gas was manufactured and then transported to the field for active service.

He thereupon experimented and soon invented a coating for his balloons which prevented the escape of gas, and at the same time perfected a transportable apparatus with which the gas could be made wherever needed in the field.

He invented a system of signaling from the air, and also the aerial telegraph, as the following telegram shows, being the first message ever sent from the upper air to the earth below:

“Balloon ‘Enterprise’, in the Air, June 18, 1861.

“To His Excellency Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States. Dear Sir: —

“From this point of observation we command an extent of country nearly fifty miles in diameter. I have the pleasure of sending you this first telegram ever dispatched from an aerial station, and acknowledging indebtedness to your encouragement for the opportunity of demonstrating the availability of the science of aeronautics in the service of the country.

“I am, Your Excellency’s obedient servant, T. S. C. LOWE.”

Three Thousand Ascensions

It is needless here to speak further of Professor Lowe’s services for his country throughout the civil war.

During the time he was engaged he made upwards of three thousand ascensions, several ascents and observations being made daily and often during the night.

He built and equipped five balloons, for the handling of which about two hundred and fifty men were detailed, and several of whom were trained by Professor Lowe as his assistants.

When his arduous labors broke down his health, and he was compelled to retire, these assistants carried on the work under his direction.

Dom Pedro, the Emperor of Brazil, also called upon him for the organization and equipment of an aeronautic corps for his army, and after war was declared between Brazil and Paraguay, he gratefully acknowledged his great indebtedness to the American aeronaut, at the same time informing him that by carrying out his methods, the war had been closed after a single battle.

The following, which are but a few from thousands of unsolicited and spontaneous expressions from army officers, statesmen, scientists and others, not only of our own but of other countries, attest most emphatically the appreciation in which many keen observers and those able to judge have held Professor Lowe’s devoted work for his country during the trying epoch of the Civil War.

Opinions of Major General A. W. Greely, the Great Explorer, Scientist and Author, Late Chief of Signal Service, U. S. A.

“It may be safely claimed that the Union Army was saved from destruction at the Battle of Fair Oaks, May 31, and June 1, 1862, by the frequent and accurate reports of Professor Lowe.” — Harpers’ Monthly, June, 1900.

“The well planned and desperate attack of the Confederate forces at Gaines’ Mills on the evening of June 27th would have been overwhelmingly successful, but for the information gained by Professor Lowe, who observed the movements, correctly interpreted and promptly reported them.” — Harper’s Monthly, June, 1900.

“The American Civil War of 1861-5 called into play all the resourcefulness and ingenuity, which have made the material and industrial progress of the United States the marvel of the World * * * Among the venturesome aeronauts was Professor T. S. C. Lowe, who proposed to make the trans-Atlantic voyage in a mammoth balloon.” — Harper’s Monthly, June, 1900.

“No one can deny that Professor Lowe, by his work during the Civil War demonstrated the economic value of war balloons in extended military operations.”— Harper’s Monthly, June. 1900.

The Confederate General, E. P. Alexander, Thus Writes in the Century’s War Records:

“Even if the observer (Prof. Lowe) never saw anything, his balloons would have been worth all they cost, trying to keep our movements out of sight.”

Captain Beaumont of the British Army in His Report to Her Majesty’s Government Writes:

“In May, 1862, Professor Lowe ascended with General Fitz John Porter, whose interest and belief in War balloons, contributed to Professor Lowe’s success. General McClellan and staff were standing under the balloon, anxious to learn the latest news of the evacuation of Yorktown. Scarcely did the balloon show itself against the sky, above the green forest line, before a terrific fire of seige guns began. The whole atmosphere was literally filled with bursting shells. One shot passed through the cordage that connected the car with the balloon, and struck near where General McClellan stood.”

The Editor of the “Century Magazine’s War Record” thus writes:

“Colonel Auchmuty of New York City, who made many ascensions in this balloon from the Camp near Doctor Gaines before the battle, says that the Confederates had a Whitworth gun at Mrs. Prices’ on the south side of the Chickahominy, with which they would fire at the War balloons (Prof. Lowe’s). General Fitz John Porter made no fewer than a hundred such ascensions.”

Prince de Joinville writes in his “Narrative of the Peninsular Campaign” page 47:

“The shells from the rifled guns flew in all directions with a length of range which had not before been suspected. The accuracy of this fire forced us to abandon all the signal posts we had established in the tops of the tallest trees. The balloon (Professor Lowe’s) itself, whenever it arose in the air, was saluted with an iron hail.”

Captain Beaumont of the British Army On Professor Lowe’s Work

The balloon staff, with McClellan’s forces, consisted of one Chief aeronaut, whose exact rank I could never quite make out, but it was not lower than a captain, nor higher than a brigadier; he was a civilian, and, by profession, an aeronaut; he was very highly paid, the same as a brigadier; and as the military rank, I believe, in America, is in some way attached to, and determined by the pay received, I fancy Professor Lowe must have been a brigadier; at any rate, he was a very clever man, and indefatigable in carrying out his work.

By night or day, whenever the weather gave a chance of seeing anything, he was up, engaged in his observations. Under him was a captain of infantry, who had been instructed by Professor Lowe in the art of ballooning.

The captain commanded the men, some fifty in number, attached to the machine, and superintended generally every arrangement in connection with its inflation and use. He was also responsible for its transport, and that a due supply of materials was kept ready. The captain never went up himself; indeed he informed me that he liked the work below best, and confined himself to it. Under the captain were a proportion of non-commissioned officers, who knew more or less of the management of it, and the men who besides having a sort of reverential awe of the machine, knew nothing whatever about it. Either one or two sentries were always on guard detailed from the captain’s party, who had the strictest orders to allow no unauthorized person to approach. * * * *

Captain Beaumont continues:

“The undermentioned is a resume of the balloon corps and apparatus with General McClellan’s army:

Balloon Corps: 1 Chief Aeronaut; 1 Captain, assistant aeronaut; 50 Non-Commissioned Officers and Privates (requiring two instructed men)

Apparatus: 2 Generators, drawn by 4 horses each; 2 Balloons drawn by 4 horses each (including tools, spare ropes, etc. ); 1 Acid Cart, drawn by 2 horses, (including tools. )

Her Majesty’s Government, in appreciation of the services rendered by Capt. Beaumont in introducing the Lowe Aeronautic System into the British Army, promoted him to a Generalship.


The Civil War Commemorative Gold Five-Dollar Coin shows with an image of Professor Lowe sending a message regarding balloon observations at the Battle of Fair Oaks.

Civil War Commemorative Gold Five-Dollar Coin