“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
McMinnville in Warren County, Tennessee — The American South (East South Central)

Cumberland Caverns

Saltpeter Mine

Cumberland Caverns Marker image. Click for full size.
By Don Morfe, July 26, 2013
1. Cumberland Caverns Marker
Inscription. Even before Tennessee joined the Confederacy in 1861, officials examined the 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’s Sycamore Powder Mills, the larger of two major gunpowder mills in the South, used saltpeter, 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 soil using water from the cave (also rich in nitrates), then poured the resulting solution into 80-gallon cast-iron crucibles outside the cave. Lye, made by leaching 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 need 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 $.25 to $1.50 a pound.

Postwar explorations in the
Cumberland Caverns Marker image. Click for full size.
By Don Morfe, July 26, 2013
2. Cumberland Caverns Marker
cave have uncovered numerous saltpeter-industry artifacts, including wooden logs hollowed out to form water pipes, wooden paddles to stir the nitrate solution, leaching 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.
Erected by Tennessee Civil War Trails.
Marker series. This marker is included in the Tennessee Civil War Trails marker series.
Location. 35° 39.967′ N, 85° 41′ W. Marker is in McMinnville, Tennessee, in Warren County. Marker is on Cumberland Caverns Road 0.7 miles north of Ballard Drive, on the right when traveling north. Click for map. Marker is at or near this postal address: 1437 Cumberland Caverns Road, McMinnville TN 37110, United States of America.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within 6 miles of this marker, measured as the crow flies. Higgenbotham's Cave (approx. 1.6 miles away); Kentucky-Alabama Road (approx. 3.6 miles away); The Birthing Tree (approx. 4 miles away); Forrest's Bivouac (approx. 4.7 miles away); Anthia Brady Hughes (approx. 4.9 miles away); Carl T. Rowan
Cumberland Caverns Plaque image. Click for full size.
By Don Morfe, July 26, 2013
3. Cumberland Caverns Plaque
Cumberland Caverns has been designated a Registered Natural Landmark. This site possesses exceptional value as an illustration of the National Natural Heritage and contributes to a better understanding of man's environment. 1976 National Park Service-United States Department of the Interior
(approx. 4.9 miles away); Charles Faulkner Bryan (approx. 5.1 miles away); Uncle Dave Macon (approx. 5.1 miles away). Click for a list of all markers in McMinnville.
Also see . . .  Cumberland Caverns. (Submitted on October 10, 2013.)
Categories. War, US Civil
Cumberland Caverns Sign image. Click for full size.
By Don Morfe, July 26, 2013
4. Cumberland Caverns Sign
The Cumberland Caverns shop. image. Click for full size.
By Don Morfe, July 26, 2013
5. The Cumberland Caverns shop.
Credits. This page originally submitted on , by Don Morfe of Baltimore, Md 21234. This page has been viewed 363 times since then and 16 times this year. Last updated on , by J. Makali Bruton of Querétaro, Mexico. Photos:   1, 2, 3, 4, 5. submitted on , by Don Morfe of Baltimore, Md 21234. • Andrew Ruppenstein was the editor who published this page. This page was last revised on June 16, 2016.
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