Editor's note: "Josh Franklin's Far Out Family Blog" is 10 chapters of Civil War history focusing on Ohio's role, written in a modern tone. Students, parents and teachers are invited to take the series a little further after reading it, and discuss the topics suggested below. The series is published through Ohio Newspapers in Education and was written by Steven Coburn-Griffis. The illustration is by Isaac Schumacher.)
War is a strange thing. It is horrible and nasty and evil. But even so, people get awfully creative in the middle of it. A lot of that creativity just winds up making better ways of killing people and destroying things, but sometimes some really cool stuff comes out of it. The American Civil War was no exception.
On the destructive side, there was the invention of the Gatling gun. Basically, this was the first machine gun and it was invented by a guy who studied medicine at the Ohio Medical College. Now it may seem kind of weird that someone who studied medicine would wind up making weapons, but there was a reason for it. See, Gatling figured that if he could invent a single weapon that could do the job of a whole bunch of soldiers, then there wouldn't be a need for as many soldiers on the battlefield. That's what he said anyway. We all know how that worked out.
On the gentler side, it was during the Civil War that anyone used any kind of aircraft to spy on their enemies. No, there weren't any airplanes back then. They used balloons. And the man who was in charge of the whole thing was Thaddeus Lowe. It was kind of funny, really. See, Lowe was trying to fly from Cincinnati, Ohio, to the Atlantic Ocean, but got a little lost. Instead, he wound up landing in North Carolina (too bad for him that the Civil War had started about a week earlier). The confederates arrested him for a spy, but he was able to talk his way out of that and they let him go. When he got back to Cincinnati to get his balloons, he found that President Lincoln thought that using balloons to get information about the enemy was a pretty good idea.
And that brings us to Uncle Ethan's next letter.
February 9, 1863
We still fight, here in Kentucky and the southernmost part of our blessed state of Ohio. The land is different here. At home, when the ground is cleared for fields or pasture, you can see as far as the trees will allow. Not so here. It is as if the ground has bunched and heaved, like a blanket poorly folded. Here it is hard to see 10 feet, let alone 10 miles, for the hills and valleys.
And Johnny Reb knows this.
He hides up in the hills and rains down bullets upon our heads. He slips behind rocks and trees and sneaks back around behind us. There are a great many Union soldiers and we have great men leading us, but far too many times we cannot find our enemy in order to fight back. There is hope, though, that this is changing and there is a very strange and wonderful reason for that.
On a sortie several weeks back, I had reason to look up and what I saw nearly took my breath away. It was a balloon, and no small child's toy, either. It was a balloon big enough to hold a large wicker basket and in that basket was a man. I could not see him well, but he seemed to be looking steadily about him. Not too long after I had seen the balloon, we were told to prepare ourselves, for a band of Confederates was moving toward us. And so there were, Wilf. Because we knew of them, we took them, all seven of them, without losing a single man. I later learned that it was the work of the Balloon Man, as I have taken to calling him. He is a lookout in an ever-moving tower. He can spy the enemy and, through the use of a wireless, report what he sees to others on the ground.
It is a remarkable thing and I pray for more such providences.
Chapter five: questions and activities
Josh's blog, including Uncle Ethan's letter, refers to state-of-the-art technologies of Ethan's time: the Gatling gun, wireless, hot air balloon. Make a chart divided into four columns. Label the first column CIVIL WAR OHIO, the second 2011 OHIO, the third COMPARISONS for your to consider the pros and cons of one compared to the other, and the fourth for you to note whether the technology is for transportation, communication, military, or health (or maybe more than one). Starting with Week One, fill in the chart.