Every general in the civil war dreamed of a secret weapon that could tell what his enemy had planned. If only there were some way to get a bird’s eye view of the land around the troops. Thaddeus S. C. Lowe was just the man for the job. He had been interested in flight since he was a boy, when he sent his cat sailing in a basket attached to a kite. During the 1850s, he began performing outdoors as an aeronaut and had become one of the best in the country. The 29-year-old Lowe began monitoring troop movements from his balloon in November of 1861. Lowe and his crew converted an abandoned coal barge into a floating platform that Lowe used as a launch pad for his balloon. It could also be used to carry the balloon from one launch site to another, so it was, in fact, America’s first aircraft carrier.