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Civil War driving tour includes local stops
Civil War marker.jpg
Warren County has five Civil War Trail markers in Tennessee’s Civil War history driving tour. The program is part of a five-state trails system that also includes Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina and West Virginia. Pictured is the marker at Pepper Branch Park. - photo by Lisa Hobbs

Going to places of interest this summer could include reclaiming the past with a driving tour of Tennessee’s Civil War Trails. 

“The Civil War Trail is important in telling Tennessee’s Civil War history, connecting travelers to the people and places of that time period,” said Melanie Beauchamp, assistant commissioner of Rural Tourism & Outreach. “A road trip along the trail is also a great way to travel safely in our current climate as many sites are considered open-air museums and are curbside attractions. We invite Tennesseans and travelers alike to embark on their own journey through Civil War history in our great state.”

Civil War Trails began with a group of historians whose efforts linked together the sites of Robert E. Lee’s retreat from Petersburg to his surrender at Appomottox. Today the program guides visitors to more than 1,500 sites in Virginia, Maryland, Tennessee, North Carolina and West Virginia. 

Five of those sites are located in Warren County:

Cumberland Caverns Even before Tennessee joined the Confederacy in 1861, officials examined the state’s caves for the nitrogen-containing compound called saltpeter, an 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.

Pepper Branch Park McMinnville’s location at the end of the Manchester and McMinnville Railroad shaped the town’s Civil War experiences. Strategically important industries here included pork and mule breeding, fruit and apple brandy production, a textile mill, and saltpeter works at nearby caves. During the war, the opposing sides occupied McMinnville, which changed hands at least five times. 

Warren County Courthouse Early in 1861, when the state first voted on secession, Warren County residents, like many Tennesseans, opposed it. When balloting next occurred in June 1861, however, sentiment overwhelmingly favored secession, and county residents voted nearly 100 to 1 to leave the Union. Young men flocked to Confederate enlisting offices, quickly forming the 16th Tennessee Infantry under John Houston Savage. Benjamin J. Hill organized the 5th Tennessee Infantry, later renumbered the 35th; it trained just south of town at nearby Camp Smartt.

The first three markers were placed in 2010, followed by two more in 2012: a second at the courthouse named “Lion of Ben Lomand” pertaining to Gen. Benjamin Jefferson Hill (1825-1880), and one at Warren County Middle School named “Raiders’ Target” pertaining to the occupation of McMinnville and the engagement of Rebel Hill. 

Breakfast Rotary, Magness Library and Heritage Alliance worked together to include Warren County in Tennessee’s Civil War Trails. Tourism Development Board pays the annual membership fee of $200 per marker, a total of $1,000 annually. 

According to Rural Tourism & Outreach, Civil War Trail travelers stay 3.5 nights and spend over $1,000 while exploring the more than 1,200 sites on the trail. When sightseeing, nearly 3-in-4 millennials (71 percent) enjoy exploring the history of an area. 

Due to coronavirus, interest in visitor outdoor attractions increased from April-May and 33 percent reported they missed going to museums. The average age of sightseers is 48, which is down significantly from the sesquicentennial years.

For more information about the Civil War Trails program, visit www.civilwartrails.org.