Cumberland Caverns

Cumberland Caverns (HM1B7D)

Location: McMinnville, TN 37110 Warren County
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Country: United States of America
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N 35° 39.967', W 85° 41'

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Saltpeter Mine

Even before Tennessee joined the Confederacy in1961, officials examined the state's caves for the nitrogen-containing compound called saltpeter, and 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 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.
HM NumberHM1B7D
Series This marker is part of the Tennessee: Tennessee Civil War Trails series
Placed ByTennessee Civil War Trails
Marker ConditionNo reports yet
Date Added Wednesday, October 8th, 2014 at 5:00pm PDT -07:00
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Locationbig map
UTM (WGS84 Datum)16S E 619169 N 3947715
Decimal Degrees35.66611667, -85.68333333
Degrees and Decimal MinutesN 35° 39.967', W 85° 41'
Degrees, Minutes and Seconds35° 39' 58.02" N, 85° 40' 60.00" W
Driving DirectionsGoogle Maps
Area Code(s)931
Closest Postal AddressAt or near 1437 Cumberland Caverns Rd, McMinnville TN 37110, US
Alternative Maps Google Maps, MapQuest, Bing Maps, Yahoo Maps, MSR Maps, OpenCycleMap, MyTopo Maps, OpenStreetMap

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