The Lost Sea

Proud to be a Civil War Trail site

08/23/2010  | 
historic places

Civil War Trails is a multi-state program that identifies, interprets, and creates driving tours of both the great campaigns and the lesser-known Civil War sites. Directional “trailblazer signs and four color interpretive markers with maps, illustrations, and text have been installed at more than 700 previously uninterrupted sites. In September, 2009 the Lost Sea was proclaimed a Civil War Trail Marker. This was because of the salt peter that was mined in the cave for the making of gunpowder.

In 1861 the Confederacy commissioned John Grant to explore the caves of East Tennessee in search of salt peter, which would be mined and manufactured into gunpowder. He found his treasure in Monroe County, Tennessee, here on the “Milk Sick Knobs” (known for the milk sick weed that grew there). But underneath the sandy shale that made this deadly herb thrive was the Great Craighead Cave known today as Lost Sea.

The June 21st, 1861 edition of the Athens Post newspaper quotes Grant as saying:”... 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...”

Conscripted (drafted) into the Confederacy in 1861 at the age of eighteen, Attorney Charles Wesley Hicks stated on his 1922 Civil War Questionnaire that he and a detail of ten other men mined salt peter from the Great Craighead Cave and shipped several hundred pounds of niter to the powder works in Richmond, Virginia approximately every two weeks. They “camped there and worked faithfully for two years and a half until Federal soldiers came to Sweetwater, four miles distant in September 1863, when he tore down our works and scattered to our homes to prevent capture.”

A date of 1863 can be found today on the walls within the cave at Lost Sea. The date has been carbon tested and does prove to be authentic. It was probably put there from the carbon of a confederate soldier’s torch. This is the oldest known date in the cave.

White Snakeroot Plant

Also known in earlier times as “milk sick weed” and “white ladyslipper”, this plant is fatal to animals that eat it, and makes their flesh or milk poisonous to those who ingest either. Milk sickness claimed thousands of lives in the early 1800s, including Abraham Lincoln’s mother. In 1826 citizens of Monroe County, TN petitioned the State of Tennessee for permission to fence off this knob (fencing at this time was not allowed) in order to protect their livestock from this poisonous plant.

Further development of the Civil War Trails program is funded in West Virginia and Tennessee, with an additional 300 sites planned for those two states. Additional marketing and interpretive program services are being planned by the 183 member localities in Virginia, Maryland, and North Carolina in preparation for the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, commencing in 2011.

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