Ray Sheen was the guest speaker at the June meeting of the 16"' Regiment, South Carolina Volunteers, Camp 36, Sons of Confederate Veterans in Greenville. Sheen is a former US Air Force officer who operates his own consulting business and enjoys Confederate re-enacting with family members. He volunteers as webmaster and maintains the I6'1' SCV and Museum of Confederate History web sites.
His topic was “The Confederate Air Force.” The War Between the States took place prior to the time the Wright Brothers flew their first airplane at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, consequently the Confederate Air Force was equipped with two manned balloons that were used primarily to spy on enemy troop emplacements.
The first balloon was made from silk purchased in Charleston. It was first launched from Richmond. Edward Alexander was named the first pilot of the balloon, although he had never operated a balloon. The balloon was filled with hydrogen at the Richmond gas works in the morning, and transported on the James River by barge until they were launched.
Throughout much of the war, the Confederacy had air superiority. Their balloons were superior to those used by the Union and Alexander was an artillery officer familiar with spotting enemy emplacements and reporting the information back to General Lee. The Union had several balloons, but they were not used effectively.