The Most Shot-At Man in America

A slave looked up towards the noon sun and saw a brown bulbous form descending on Pea Ridge, near Unionville, South Carolina.

“Das’ a devil!” he yelled.

“Mebbe’...” said Harman, the field-master, “but sho’ do look like a man in der’... got a campfire lit, too.”

The balloon slowly drifted overhead and came to land a few hundred yards away. Harman had run down to the road and gathered a few friends and together they hurriedly made their way to the aircraft. When the man in the balloon saw the group of armed men approaching, he opened the gas-valve wide and tried to make an escape.

The balloon only rose a few feet and he franticly began tossing sandbags over the side of the basket. A strong downward draft kept the craft from gaining any altitude though and it simply scooted sideways. The armed party walked alongside it, watching fascinated.

“I reckon you lost your luggage, mistah! Ya betta’ stay put!”

Eventually, the balloon touched down again and the men grabbed its tethers. Harman bent over and peered into the basket. At the feet of the aeronaut was a stack of newspapers. He grabbed one and looked at the front page.

“Cincinnati? Abolitionist news? Boys, dis’ ain’t jus’ no devil. Dis’ a damn Yankee devil!”

“Spy!” the others yelled.

It was April 20th, 1861, exactly one week after the bombardment of Fort Sumter, opening the “War Between the States,” and the unexpected arrival of the Yankee caused a stir. It took two days to convince the authorities that his presence was by accident and one of scientific inquiry; that he was not, after all, a spy.

When he made his way back north, Thaddeus Lowe volunteered his balloons in service to the Union army and became, after all, a spy.

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