Organ Cave played a significant role during the American Civil War, as the cave is an abundant source of saltpetre, one of the most important minerals sought after by armies on both sides of the conflict. Saltpetre (potassium nitrate after been processed) is the primary ingredient in black powder and in its raw form (calcium nitrate) can be seen glittering on the walls and the floor of the cave. This cave furnished the Confederate Army 75% to 90% of the saltpetre for their army.
Confederate soldiers working under the directions of General Robert E Lee found that Organ Cave was not only an excellent place to extract this valuable mineral, but realized that the cave was a suitable facility to which further refine the saltpetre into a form suitable for the powder mills of Augusta, Georgia.
Visitors today can learn first hand how the soldiers processed, by hand, this nitre while walking the trails used by the soldiers and observing the large collection of equipment left behind by the Confederates. Along with the mining, the Confederates used the cave as a gigantic church: visitors appreciate the natural acoustics inside the appropriately named, "Chapel Room" that easily housed 1100 Confederates. This room is 365 feet long and 96 feet wide. Organ Cave is a living museum of America's heritage. Vistors only need to witness the massive underground chapel used by the Confederate soldiers, observe the markings and writings left by these men and even smell plus see the smoke left behind on the ceilings and walls over 150 years ago to understand that Organ Cave is much more than a textbook cave, it is history alive and vibrant.
Within the depths of Organ Cave lies the Hopper Room, a well-preserved refinery built by the Confederate Soldiers at the beginning of the American Civil War. Built of hardwoods of oak, locust and cucumber, hoppers are large vats that held the nitre rich soil mined by the soldiers inside the cave. Each hopper was filled with mined soil containing the saltpetre coming from the Chapel Room which they carried in cloth sacks for 1/2 mile back to the Hopper Room. There are 37 of 52 hoppers still standing with the original dirt still inside the hoppers. The soldiers were here during the winters of 1861, 1862, 1863. They were not here during the summer months. The cave would have been about 60 to 65 degrees during this time because of all the soldiers plus the pitch pine torches used to light their way in the cave and all the bon fires used for cooking and heating water. Outside of the cave at this time was a mini ice age, so the soldiers were much warmer inside the cave then they could have been outside. They had little in clothing and had not been issued a tent nor a blanket by the military when they first started, so again the cave was a welcomed shelter for them through the harsh winter months.
Come and experience the walk the soldiers made several times daily to mine this saltpetre so important to their cause. See where they rested their heads for what rest they did get. Fill the atmosphere in which the soldiers lived and worked to survive. This is something that cannot be explained, but you must feel.
This is a photo of Civil War artifacts in the show case in the gift shop.The Bible is there because Robert E. Lee was a very religious man. He made sure his soldiers had church services every Sunday. The services were held in the Chapel Room, the first room in the cave. This room was 365 feet long and 96 feet wide. The King James Version of the Bible is the next best thing we have to this Bible. The next thing is a pick axe. This was brought in by a local person to help the confederates. They had no tools like this to use only those brought in by local farmers to help them. On the pick axe handle is a paper cent note. This was used in place of coins. They had no metal to make coin change. This could only be spent in the town it was made in. This one was made in Lewisburg, Va. We were not yet a state. If they went to another town, they took these with them and used them as bandages. The other bills, 50 and 20's, could be spent any where because they were drawn on the Confederate capital, Richmond. Next you see wooden pieces of wood. These were their torches used as lighting. They were made from pitch pine. There were 3 to 4 feet long and burned about 3 hours each. As a confederate, you have already cut many, many, many of these and placed them in the cave for future use. They did not place torches in the walls because they were afarid the Yankees would come in and follow the torch line to them, so every soldier carried his own torch for lighting. The next item is a foot adz. This was used to cut the running trough and the catch trough in the hoppers. You see a flat wooden paddle cut by a confederate soldier to dig up the saltpetre from the cave dirt. The other paddle you see was used during the War of 1812.
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242 Organ Cave Drive
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May through August
Tours are Monday thru Saturday 10 am to last tour at
3:45 pm. Each tour is about 1 1/2 hours to 2 hours. Gift shop is open till last tour out.
Closed on Sundays in honor of the Lord's Day.
September and October
All walking tours are at 11 am, 1 pm and 3 pm Gift Shop is closed during these tours
All exploring expeditions & fossil hunts require reservations in advance,walking tours do not unless large groups or schools or in winter months
November thru To April 1st
all tours are by reservation only, must call ahead
Military, Police officers, Firemen and EMS personel with ID 15% off the Walking Museum Trail only
Group Tours, Schools Tours
Family Tours of 5 or more on walking tours only
Extended Expeditions of 10 people or more