Become a

Events Calendar

Loading Events

« All Events

Hampton Roads History: The Virginia Peninsula and the Birth of Military Aviation

November 7 @ 2:30 PM - 3:30 PM

Presented by John V. Quarstein, Director Emeritus, USS Monitor Center

Gas and hot air balloons were first used for military purposes in America during the Civil War. The first launching of an observation balloon was made on July 31, 1861, by aeronaut John LaMountain who had travelled from New York to Fort Monroe, Virginia. LaMountain wanted to get a closer look at Confederate fortifications defending Norfolk. He turned USS Fanny into the first aircraft carrier when he lofted from the ship’s deck on August 3, 1861, rising to a height of 2,000 feet.

Professor Thaddeus S. C. Lowe created the US Balloon Corps and supported the Army of the Potomac during the 1862 Peninsula Campaign. Balloons could be seen daily during the siege of Yorktown. Not to be outdone, the Confederates fabricated their own hot air craft at Lee Hall Mansion on April 17, 1862. Although cumbersome to move and challenging to operate, these balloons were effective intelligence tools when properly used.

Just over 60 years later, the Hampton Roads region would become home base for several lighter-than-air military craft, including Lee Hall Balloon School and the Norfolk Naval Air Station. While balloons would be replaced by planes and jets, the Virginia Peninsula was the site of both the beginning and end of the balloon era.

Attendees are welcome to join John Quarstein after the lecture for a signing of any books he has written, which can be purchased online or in the Museum’s gift shop.



November 7
2:30 PM - 3:30 PM


The Mariners’ Museum
100 Museum Drive
Newport News, VA 23606 United States
(757) 596-2222