Friday, December 13, 1861
In the summer of 1861 the Union army began experimentation in military reconnaissance with observation balloons. Thaddeus Lowe was named Chief Aeronaut and received funding for seven balloons which were positioned along the Potomac River from October 1861 into early 1862. In December 1861 Company D of the Twentieth Massachusetts, led by Lieutenant Nathaniel Messer, was selected for balloon duty at Edwards Ferry. In a letter to his mother from Camp Benton Lieutenant Henry Abbott of Company I wrote that General Charles P. Stone, the commander of the Corps of Observation, delayed the initial deployment of the balloon. General Stone had been under fire from fellow officers since the encounter at Ball's Bluff and had been regarded by many, including Henry Abbott, as chiefly responsible for the heavy losses ensuing from the battle.1
1George A. Bruce, The Twentieth Regiment of Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry 1861 - 1865 (Cambridge, Massachusetts: The Riverside Press, 1906), 74; Robert Garth Scott, editor, Fallen Leaves: The Civil War Letters of Major Henry Livermore Abbott (Kent, Ohio: The Kent State University Press, 1991), 84; James L. Green, "Civil War Ballooning During the Seven Days Campaign," Civil War Trust (http://www.civilwar.org/education/history/civil-war-ballooning/ballooning-during-the-seven.html).