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City of Alexandria, VA City of Alexandria, VA
Historic Alexandria
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Page updated Nov 23, 2015 4:20 PM

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April 28, 11 3 p.m.

Did you know that the Union Army staged several military balloon ascensions in the West End of Alexandria early in the Civil War?    Learn about this little known aspect of Alexandria’s history and the Civil War Balloon Corps on April 28 in a living history program held at Fort Ward Museum & Historic Site.  The event will take place from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and is free to the public.  The program is weather dependent.

In 1861, a civilian Balloon Corps attached to the U.S. Army was organized to gather information on Confederate positions and movements from the sky.   Although aeronaut Thaddeus Lowe was appointed Chief Aeronaut to command the Balloon Corps, one of his competitors, John La Mountain, was responsible for conducting several balloon ascensions from Alexandria beginning in October of 1861.  

Fort Ward’s program will feature a reenactor portraying period aeronaut Thaddeus Lowe, who will discuss the use of aerial balloons for military surveillance during the war, and the local history of La Mountain’s balloon ascensions.   A highlight of the program will be a 19,000 cubic foot netted gas balloon similar to those used during the Civil War.  The theme of how technology of the time was used to advance military communications will also be interpreted by reenactors portraying telegraphers and members of the signal corps who will display equipment and present demonstrations.   Visitors can also tour the historic Union fort, which features the fully restored Northwest bastion, visit the reconstructed and furnished Officers’ Hut, and view Museum exhibits.

Fort Ward is the best preserved fortification in the Defenses of Washington, an extensive system of forts built to protect the Union capital during the Civil War.  The Museum offers changing exhibits, tours, lectures, and interpretive programs throughout the year.  Fort Ward Museum & Historic Site is located at 4301 West Braddock Road. 

For more information visit, or call 703.746.4848.


Office of Historic Alexandria 

Administration Offices

Lloyd House
220 North Washington Street
Alexandria, VA 22314
Fax: 703.838.6451

Office Hours
Monday - Friday
8 a.m. to 5 p.m.