Prof. Lowe ascending in the Intrepid to observe the Battle of Fair Oaks. Photo by Matthew Brady

WASHINGTON – During the civil war, the Union Army Balloon Corps performed aerial reconnaissance on the Confederate Army.

Fast forward today and “the U.S. military is deploying balloons in wars zones today,” says John Deperro, balloon enthusiast and Civil War reenactor with the Union Army Balloon Corps.

He says the best you can get out of an unmanned aerial vehicle or UAV is about 36 hours.

“In fact, there is a northern Virginia company that will be deploying a 370-foot balloon next month in Afghanistan to sit in and orbit over Kabul at 20,000 feet for five days at a time,” he says.

Kevin Knapp, another Civil War balloon enthusiast and professional balloon pilot says the Union Army had seven balloons and nine balloonists.

“They were no hot air balloons. Balloons at the time were gas balloons,” Knapp says.

He says the Union Army Balloon Corps formed after Thaddeus Lowe, who became commander of the corps, met with President Lincoln for a demonstration in June 1861.

They used their balloons to perform aerial reconnaissance on the Confederate armies. With the balloons tethered, they could send a telegraph wire down the rope and to the commanders, giving them real time intelligence.

Deperro says ballooning lessons learned during the Civil War have many applications today by American armed forces deployed overseas.

WTOP’s Kathy Stewart contributed to this report.