Saltpeter Gunpowder Mine
“Even before Tennessee joined the Confederacy in 1861, officials examined state’s caves for the nitrogen containing compound called saltpeter, an essential ingredient in gunpowder. The soil at Cumberland Caverns was ideal – saltpeter had been mined there in Henshaw Cave during the War of 1812. Nashville Sycamore Powdermills, the larger of the 2 major gunpowder mills in the South, used charcoal and sulfur to make gunpowder. Soon, Henshaw Cave was producing saltpeter for the Confederacy.
To make saltpeter, workers in the cave leached nitrates from the soul using water from the cave (also rich in nitrates), then poured the resulting solution into 80 gallons cast-iron crucibles outside the cave. Lye, made by leeching water through oak and hickory charcoal or ashes, was added to the crucibles. Wood fires built under the crucibles boiled down the liquid and produced the correct type of saltpeter crystals needed for gunpowder. The saltpeter made here and at other nearby caverns was then transported to Nashville until the federals occupied the city in 1862, when it was taken to other mills.
As with other rare raw materials, saltpeter’s price rose sharply with increased demand. In 1864, near the end of the war, the price had risen from $0.25 to a $1.50 a pound.
Postwar explorations in the cave have uncovered numerous saltpeter industry artifacts, including wooden logs hollowed out to form water pipes, wooden paddles to stir the nitrate solution, leeching pits, and assorted tools. Some of these artifacts are on display in the cave shop. The leaching pits, hollowed out log water pipes, and the iron crucible may be viewed during the cave tour.” – Tennessee Civil War Trails
Cumberland Caverns is a national natural landmark and “show cave” located in McMinnville, TN. It’s the second longest cave in Tennessee and makes the list of longest caves in the United States, and in the world. – Wikipedia
This virtual tour of Cumberland Caverns is a 3D like view of 2 historic parts of the cave: early explorer, Major Shelah Waters marked the cave in 1869.
They offer a military, senior and AAA discounts.
(931) 668-4396 • 1437 Cumberland Caverns Rd • McMinnville TN 37110 cumberlandcaverns.com
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