The Significance of Caves in Appalachia
There are hundreds of caves beneath the Appalachian region. It has been reported that more than ten thousand caves lie beneath these beautiful mountains. And, while people today admire the beauty of a cave like Mammoth Cave in southern Kentucky or the enigma of the Lost Sea in southeast Tennessee, few understand the significance many of these caves played during the early days of our nation. Like most of the western ledge of the Appalachian Mountains, the areas of eastern Tennessee and Kentucky, western North Carolina and northern Georgia were explored extensively with the influx of immigrants and explorers from the coastal areas. During these explorations, many of these caves were discovered, some of which continue to be visited regularly by tourist but many of which became vitally important in shaping this part of the country as well as playing a role in many of the battles fought in this nation.
Many of the caves in the western Appalachian region became useful for the mining of saltpeter. Saltpeter is a nitrate created from the dropping of bats (bat guano). By mining and processing this material, a key ingredient of gunpowder is formed. Obviously, back when gunpowder was vital because of the types of ammunition used during the Revolutionary and Civil Wars (and wars in between), saltpeter finds were vital to supply soldiers and others with sufficient gunpowder to fight. While not all caves contain bat guano, many in eastern Tennessee do and these caves played significant roles in the War of 1812 and the Civil War, primarily.
Mammoth Cave is the longest known cave in the world. It has been visited by members of the public since 1816. (nps.gov, 2011) However, from artifacts found, it is clear that this cave was used by Indians long before the white men crossed the mountain. What most do not know is that this cave played a vital role in the early colonies and during the war of 1812. When...