Confederate Saltpeter Works

Confederate Saltpeter Works (HM14B2)

Location: Ronceverte, WV 24970 Greenbrier County
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Country: United States of America
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N 37° 43.092', W 80° 26.148'

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Civil War Industrial Center

Although saltpeter (potassium nitrate or nitre), an essential element in the manufacture of gunpowder, had been mined at Organ Cave since the eighteenth century, the need for the mineral increased dramatically during the Civil War. Several saltpeter mines were operated in West Virginia. Confederate soldiers were detailed to operate the mine here beginning in 1861 and ultimately produced a large percentage of the saltpeter used in the production of gunpowder for the Confederate army.

Many of the soldiers lived in the cave during the harsh winters and conducted religious services in the Chapel Room. A stream flowing through the cave provided water for cooking, washing, and drinking. The soldiers constructed fifty-two vats, or hoppers, to separate the saltpeter from the rock and soil in which it was found. Thirty-seven hoppers remain in the Hopper Room, the largest collection in the United States. The soldiers lugged sacks of soil to the hopper, where the water was poured through to leach out the saltpeter. It took an estimated 2,000 pounds of soil, carried in 14-16 trips, to fill one hopper. When two hundred pounds of saltpeter had been extracted, it was shipped to Southern gunpowder factories, such as the one in Augusta, Georgia.

On August 19, 1863, Gen. William W. Averell led a cavalry expedition into West Virginia including Greenbrier County. His objective was to destroy saltpeter works in Pendleton County. Although he did not attack the Organ Cave works, apparently saltpeter production here stopped soon thereafter.

Following the Civil War, Organ Cave resumed its role as a tourist attraction.

(Sidebar): Fossilized remains of grizzly bear, saber-tooth cat, porcupine, and the first three-toed sloth found in America have been found in Organ Cave. Human history here is indicated by the Native American projectile points that have been found. Later, the date 1704 was carved in the cave. Saltpeter mining began in the eighteenth century. The earliest known tours of the cave began in 1822, when it was called John Rogers's Stagecoach Stop. The Secretary of the Interior designated Organ Cave System, one of the largest in West Virginia, a National Natural Landmark in November 1973. In 2005, Organ Cave was listed on the National Register of Historic Places for its industrial and recreational significance.
HM NumberHM14B2
Series This marker is part of the West Virginia Civil War Trails series
Placed ByWest Virginia Civil War Trails
Marker ConditionNo reports yet
Date Added Thursday, October 23rd, 2014 at 2:38pm PDT -07:00
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Locationbig map
UTM (WGS84 Datum)17S E 549724 N 4174699
Decimal Degrees37.71820000, -80.43580000
Degrees and Decimal MinutesN 37° 43.092', W 80° 26.148'
Degrees, Minutes and Seconds37° 43' 5.52" N, 80° 26' 8.88" W
Driving DirectionsGoogle Maps
Area Code(s)304
Closest Postal AddressAt or near 242 Organ Cave, Ronceverte WV 24970, US
Alternative Maps Google Maps, MapQuest, Bing Maps, Yahoo Maps, MSR Maps, OpenCycleMap, MyTopo Maps, OpenStreetMap

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