The Fourth Alabama Painting by Don Troiani

Army of Northeastern Virginia

John Wise, Aeronaunt, United States Corps Topographical Engineers, Balloon Detachment

John Wise, Aeronaunt, United States Corps Topographical Engineers, Balloon Detachment

United States Corps Topographical Engineers, Balloon Detachment

Major A J Myer, United States Signal Corps, was assigned on 21 July, 1861.

Aeronaut: J WISE
J Wise accompanied by his son, Charles Wise, supervised the handling of the cables on 21 July, 1861.

26th Pennsylvannia Infantry

Company Unlettered Detachment: SGT. E BIRD
A detail of twenty men of the 26th Pennsylvania Infantry, under the command of Sergeant E Bird, was assigned to the United States Corps Topographical Engineers, Balloon Detachment (See the 26th Pennsylvania Infantry).


"Wise accordingly inflated his balloon at the Columbian Armory and made preparations for the departure. He was joined by a detail of twenty men picked from Colonel W F Small's 26th Pennsylvania Infantry, who had been assigned to balloon duty by express order of General McDowell on the 17th."

"At two o'clock Sunday morning Major Myer joined the balloon party and took command. The train, with its twenty men from the 26th Pennsylvania under the direction of Sergeant Edward Bird, accompanied by an escort wagon drawn by four horses, took up thei rline of march from the Columbian Armory and proceeded out Pennsylvania Avenue towards the river."

"A large beech tree overhanging the road beyond a small bridge was hastily felled by the excited pioneers who accompanied the party."

"With the balloon now damaged beyond all possibility of field repairs, and with no gas available even had Wise been able to close the rents in the envelope, Myer placed the train under Wise's command, with instructions to return to Washington, make repairs, and bring the balloon back to the front as soon as possible. Myer then proceeded alone to the front, and reported as a signal officer to McDowell's headquarters."

Aeronautics in the Union and Confererate armies, with a survey of military aeronautics prior to 1861, Volume 1, by F Stabsbury Haydon

"Not being able to obtain assistance from Captain Whipple, who was then on duty, I concluded, on the advice of my friends, to inflate the balloon and procure men for its transportation on my own account, not doubting that my services would be properly appreciated; but to my disappointment I was informed by the director of the gas company that another balloon had arrived and was to be used instead of mine. On the receipt of this intelligence I removed my balloon from the inflating pipes, to give place to the other balloon, and ceased all further efforts until I was informed on Sunday, that the competing had proved a failure, and then being urged by several patriotic individuals, and hoping still to render some service to the army at Centerville or Manassas, I commenced on Sunday morning to make preparations for inflating and transporting my balloon, and on the evening of the same day started with it for Virginia. In this enterprise I was aided by the liberality of Colonel Small, who furnished me with his command for the purpose. Unfortunately, when we arrived at Falls Church I was informed of the retreat of the army, and thinking it useless to attempt to go farther, I concluded to remain there, even after all the troops had passed by and the midst of a drenching rain, with the hope that I might be of service in giving information as to the approach of the enemy; but as the pickets were withdrawn, I started again at 4.30 on Monday afternoon to return to Arlington, the rain continuing to fall in torrents, the wind against us, and arrived at Fort Corcoran at 8 o’clock the same evening with the balloon fully inflated after having been transported against a wind of considerable force, through a distance in all of about twenty miles, the latter half of which was in a violent rain-storm. I remained with the balloon at Fort Corcoran until Wednesday morning, and them, taking advantage of the favorable wearther, I ascended at 7.30 o’clock with an ascensional power of 500 pounds beyond the weight of the balloon itself. I obtained an altitude of about three and one-half miles and had a distinct view of the encampments of the enemy, and observed them in motion between Manassas Junction and Fairfax."

Communication addressed to Major H. Bache, of the Topographical Engineers, Washington D. C., 29 July, 1861, by T S C Lowe, Aeronaut


Captain A W Whipple, First Lieutenant H L Abbot, and Second Lieutenant H S Putnam, United States Corps Topographical Engineers, were assigned to the Army of Northeastern Virginia during the first battle of Bull Run.

United States Corps Topographical Engineers, Balloon Detachment: T S C Lowe, Areonaunt, was informed by Captain A W Whipple that the United States Corps Topographical Engineers had decided to adopt the balloon for military purposes on 26 June, 1861. Major H Bache, United States Corps Topographical Engineers, requested Captain T Talbolt, assistant adjutant general, Department of Washington, D. C., to order a wagon and team to be assigned to the United States Corps Topographical Engineers, Balloon Detachment, for transportation.

Advance to Centreville, Virginia, 16 July, 1861: Two deflated balloons were transported to Alexandria, Virginia, under the command of First Lieutenant H L Abbot, United States Corps Topographical Engineers, on 14 July, 1861, and a ground crew of sixty men of the 11th New York Infantry were assigned to tow the balloons to Falls Church, Virginia (See the 11th New York Infantry). The balloons were ordered to proceed with the First Division, Army of Northeastern Virginia, on 16 July, 1861, and the first balloon suddenly burst as soon as it was fully inflated. Major A J Myer ordered the second balloon to be tied to a wagon and the balloon became wedged in thick upper foliage near Fairfax Courthouse, Virginia, on 16 July, 1861, which tore large rents in the envelope rendering aerial observations at the first battle of Bull Run impossible. Major A J Myer was assigned as an aide to Brigadier General I McDowell on 21 July, 1861.

1st Rhode Island Detached Militia: J Allen, a New England Aeronaut, volunteered his services and aeronautic equipment as a balloonist to the 1st Rhode Island Detached Militia Light Artillery and was assisted by W H Helme, 1st Rhode Island Detached Militia Infantry, Company C, because of his special knowledge and experience.

Orders of Battle

The above painting, 'New York's Bravest', is by Don Troiani, modern America's finest historial artist.