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Sweetwater in Monroe County, Tennessee — The American South (East South Central)
 

The Great Craighead Cave

Mining a Strategic Material

 
 
The Great Craighead Cave Marker image. Click for full size.
By Don Morfe, April 25, 2014
1. The Great Craighead Cave Marker
Inscription. Saltpeter, or niter, is a key ingredient of gunpowder found in many limestone caves in East Tennessee. In June 1861, Randolph Ross, Jr., and J. Marshall McCue contracted with the Confederate Ordnance Bureau to produce niter here at the “Milk Sick Knobs,” a place where the white snakeroot thrived. Beneath the sandy shale that nurtured this deadly herb was the Great Craighead Cave, which contained significant deposits of saltpeter.

The war effort required immense quantities of saltpeter and the Confederate government soon advanced $2,000 to the partnership to increase the capacity of the facility. By the following January, McCue, now in business by himself, had contracted to deliver 250,000 pounds of the vital substance to the Confederate powder works in Augusta, Georgia, during 1862. Although production here never came close to that amount, the facility shipped several hundred pounds of niter every two weeks.

Abraham Stakely oversaw the saltpeter operations at Craighead Cave and conscripted men such as Charles W. Hicks to mine the mineral and heat it in large iron kettles. Almost 60 years later, attorney Hicks recalled in his Civil War Veterans Questionnaire that he and ten others “camped there and worked faithfully two years and a half until Federal soldiers came to Sweetwater, four miles distant
The Great Craighead Cave Marker image. Click for full size.
By Don Morfe, April 25, 2014
2. The Great Craighead Cave Marker
in Sept. 1863, when we tore down our works and scattered to our homes to prevent capture.”

“Enough Saltpetre can be obtained to supply the demand of the State for making powder, even if Old Abe False Pretence and his Northern successors shall continue a wicked war against the South for forty years.” — John Grant, Athens Post, June 21, 1861

(captions)
(upper center) Tennessee Saltpeter Cave, Harper’s Weekly, Feb. 6, 1864
(lower right) Great Craighead Cave interior - Courtesy The Lost Sea
 
Erected by Tennessee Civil War Trails.
 
Marker series. This marker is included in the Tennessee Civil War Trails marker series.
 
Location. 35° 32.14′ N, 84° 25.864′ W. Marker is in Sweetwater, Tennessee, in Monroe County. Marker is on Lost Sea Road 0.2 miles north of Tennessee Route 68, on the right when traveling north. Touch for map. The marker is on the grounds of The Lost Sea Adventure. Marker is at or near this postal address: 140 Lost Sea Road, Sweetwater TN 37874, United States of America.
 
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within 5 miles of this marker, measured as the crow flies. Lost Sea (approx. 0.2 miles away); War Comes to Madisonville (approx. 4 miles away);
The Great Craighead Cave Marker image. Click for full size.
By Don Morfe, April 25, 2014
3. The Great Craighead Cave Marker
Monroe County Courthouse (approx. 4 miles away); In Memory of Those Who Served (approx. 4 miles away); John Crawford Vaughn (approx. 4 miles away); Sweetwater Depot (approx. 4.8 miles away); The Tennessee Overhill Experience (approx. 4.8 miles away); Longstreet Encampment (approx. 4.8 miles away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Sweetwater.
 
Categories. Industry & CommerceWar, US Civil
 
Lost Sea -Registered Natural Landmark image. Click for full size.
By Don Morfe, April 25, 2014
4. Lost Sea -Registered Natural Landmark
The Lost Sea Adventure-Entrance image. Click for full size.
By Don Morfe, April 25, 2014
5. The Lost Sea Adventure-Entrance
The Lost Sea Adventure-Entrance-Distant photo image. Click for full size.
By Don Morfe, April 25, 2014
6. The Lost Sea Adventure-Entrance-Distant photo
The Great Craighead Cave-Entrance inside the Visitor Center image. Click for full size.
By Don Morfe, April 25, 2014
7. The Great Craighead Cave-Entrance inside the Visitor Center
 
 
Credits. This page was last revised on June 16, 2016. This page originally submitted on July 16, 2014, by Don Morfe of Baltimore, Md 21234. This page has been viewed 390 times since then and 80 times this year. Last updated on April 8, 2015, by J. Makali Bruton of Querétaro, Mexico. Photos:   1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7. submitted on July 16, 2014, by Don Morfe of Baltimore, Md 21234. • Bill Pfingsten was the editor who published this page.
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