Monday, September 10, 2012

Salt Works of Eastern Kentucky

Salt played a major role during the Civil War. Salt not only preserved food in the days before refrigeration, but was also essential in the curing of leather and dyeing of uniforms. Prior to the war, large quantities of salt were imported from England, Portugal and the British West Indies, but a significant amount was also produced domestically. During the Civil War, salt production facilities in Saltville, Va., Virginia's Kanawha Valley and Avery Island, Louisiana, were crucial to the Confederate war effort, especially after the Union blockaded delivery of salt to the Confederate states. Union general William Tecumseh Sherman once said that "salt is eminently contraband", as an army that has salt can adequately feed its men.

The oldest and most extensive salt works in Kentucky were located in the Eastern part of the state, near Manchester in Clay County, upon the waters of Goose Creek and its tributaries. These included Langford's (later called the Lower Goose Creek Salt Works), White's (Upper Goose Creek Salt Works), Garrard's (Union Salt Works), and several others owned and operated by the Bates brothers, Francis Clark, the Reid, Horton, May, Chastain, Gibson and other families. The yield per salt works amounted on an average to 50-100 bushels of salt daily.

1864 Plat Map of Goose Creek Salt Works
In the 1860’s, Goose Creek Salt retailed in John G. Taylor's grocery store in Richmond, Kentucky, at the following prices:

April 26, 1860 - .65/bushel
August 14, 1860 - .62.5/bushel
November 5, 1860 - .60/bushel
December 3, 1860 - .60/bushel
April 27, 1861 - .50/bushel
August 15, 1861 - .50/bushel
Oct. 29, 1861 - .75/bushel
Dec. 21, 1861 - .62.5/bushel
April 27, 1862 - .50/bushel
June 19, 1862 - .62.5/bushel
July 25, 1862 - .62.5/bushel
Sept. 8, 1862 - .70/bushel
November 1862 - .85/bushel
Dec. 4, 1862 - .65/bushel
Jan. - May 1863 - .50/bushel

On September 27, 1861, troops under Confederate Brigadier General Felix Kirk Zollicoffer raided the Goose Creek Salt Works and loaded their wagon train with 200 barrels of salt, and "pulled down the flag, tore it up, and in addition, placed theirs on the same pole." Zollicoffer noted that, “The works belong to Lincoln men, but I caused it to be receipted for, with the expectation that the Confederate Government will pay for it at the price at the works--forty cents per bushel. The scarcity of the article in the Confederate States makes the acquisition a valuable one to the Army.”

Brigadier General Felix Kirk Zollicoffer
In the fall of 1862, during the Confederate invasion of Kentucky by General Kirby Smith, the Confederates carried off another 3500 – 4000 bushels of salt. Southern papers stated, “The Salt Works at Goose Creek, forty miles beyond the Gap, are now accessible to our people. A gentleman just from there informs me that there is an immense supply on hand, and that it is selling at one dollar a bushel.”

Union authorities anticipated another raid by the Confederates on the salt works. On Oct. 23-24, 1862, five major Goose Creek salt works were destroyed by US soldiers to keep them from falling into rebel hands. This included the Union salt works, owned and operated by Colonel, later Union Brigadier General, T. T. Garrard. US Brigadier General William Lovy Smith noted in his report ”the noble conduct of some of those interested in the works, especially of Mrs. Garrard, who expressed her entire willingness that not only that valuable property, but all else that she and her husband (a colonel in our service) owned, might be destroyed , if such destruction would help to restore the Union …” Smith also commented that “these salt works are situated in the midst of a population whose loyalty and patriotism are not excelled in any portion of our country.” Thus, before the work of destruction began, the loyal citizens were allowed to remove whatever quantity of salt was necessary to supply the country round about. The remainder, nearly 30,000 bushels, was destroyed by turning the water of the cisterns upon it or throwing it into pools or the creek. 500 men were engaged for 36 consecutive hours in destroying the works including pumps, wells and pipes. In one case, cannonballs were forced into the wells. The destruction of the salt works had an immediate impact, creating a shortage which in turn drove up the price of salt.

Nearly a year later, on September 3, 1863, Col. John DeCourcy, who commanded a brigade of US troops near Barboursville, KY, authorized “all loyal men who are owners of, or in any manner interested in the salt works … to resume their operations in the manufacture of salt, heretofore injured by command of government officials, and I assure them in the fullest possible manner every aid and protection the government or its officers, civil and military, can give them, it being the wish to foster and not hinder endeavors to develop the resources of the country, especially on the part of true men.”

Brashear's Salt Works in Perry County, now known as Cornettsville, were located at the confluence of the North Fork of the Kentucky River, Leatherwood and Little Leatherwood Creeks, on Highway 699, just off Route 7. The owner Robert S. Brashear began operating the salt works in 1834, with a combined work force of slaves and local laborers. The salt production for one year was reported to be 7,000 bushels.

On December 10, 1861, CSA Brigadier-General Humphrey Marshall reported that he had possession of Brashear’s Salt Works, hoping to produce 35 or 40 bushels of salt per week, including salt produced at the Middle Creek Salt Works by a second detachment, “so as not only to supply my current demand, but to enable me to pack as much meat ration as will serve this army for future purposes.”

Eventually, Marshall was able to convince Brashear to offer the use of his salt works to the Confederate government for a term of three years. On February 1, 1862, Brashear submitted the following proposal:

I propose and agree to lease to the Government of the Confederate States of America my tract of land in Perry County, Kentucky, embracing some 4,000 acres, with privilege of using the machinery thereon situated and of making salt there and of cultivating the land, and with the privilege of cutting the timber and mining the coal, for the term of three years, from the 1st day of May next, for the sum of $2,000 for the whole term, payable in equal installments annually, and with power to said Government to assign this lease and to locate troops on the land and otherwise to exercise all acts of ownership for the term through its agents, servants, officers, or assigns. The acceptance of this proposition by the President or Secretary of War is to be considered as making this contract complete, on my being notified thereof by General Marshall, or any other agent of the Government, and a copy hereof furnished to me, signed by the President or Secretary, at any time prior to the 1st of May, 1862; possession to be given at that time or as much sooner as the other party chooses to take it.

L. B. Northrop, Commissary-General Subsistence, however, was hesitant to accept the offer. “It is not recommended to decide on this question at present, as it remains open until the 1st of May. Moreover, this department has made preparations for furnishing salt in less precarious localities and sufficient quantities.”

The Brashear's Salt Works changed hands several times during the Civil War. On October 19, 1862, the Battle of Leatherwood took place between Confederate forces under Captain David J. Caudill, commanding Co. B, 10th Kentucky Mounted Rifles, who were guarding the salt works and a detachment of the Harlan County Battalion, Kentucky State Guards. Major B. F. Blankenship stated in his report, “A party of 40 men, 25 from capt Powell's & 15 from capt Morgan's companies, were detailed to go to the Salt well at mouth of leatherwood Creek in perry County, Ky to form a junction with some home guards who stated that they wished to join our company. They had not proceeded very far when they were attacked by a company of rebels under capt D J Caudill numbering 100 men. Our men returned their fire and the contest was severe for about 15 minutes when the rebels retreated leaving 5 dead on the field and mortally wounding D J Caudill their Capt. Our loss was one wounded who since died." Brashear’s Salt Works remained in business until the 1880’s.

David, in Floyd County, Kentucky, was the site of the Boone Salt Springs. It was discovered by Daniel Boone and one or two companions during the of winter 1767-68, at the mouth of Salt Lick Fork of the left fork of Middle Creek, ten miles west of present day Prestonsburg. The salt spring flowed from the foot of a rocky bluff on the southern bank of the stream. Nearly 30 years later, during the winter of 1796-97, Nathan Boone visited the area while on a hunt with his father. Settled by James Young as early as 1779, the springs were now known as Young's Salt Works, the earliest of its kind in the Big Sandy Valley. A well was sunk which enabled Young to supply salt to the early Big Sandy pioneers for decades. He lived on the tract as late as 1801. Owners included Henry Clay, Kentucky’s famous statesman, as well as John Breckenridge, the grandfather of Confederate General John C. Breckinridge. In 1805, in partnership with John Young, he owned one equal moiety of 1000 acres of land on Middle Creek, which included the salt works. Later owners included the Harrises, the Hamiltons, and others, who operated the wells. By January of 1829, the salt works were known as Middle Creek Salt Works.

Kentucky Historical Marker, David, KY
During the Civil War, salt manufactured at Middle Creek supplied both Union and Confederate troops. At the beginning of December 1861, a detachment of CS General Humphrey Marshall’s command was at Middle Creek Salt Works, making salt for the use of his army. On October 19, 1862, a force of 500-600 Confederates from Floyd’s command “were reported to be at the salt-works on the Big Sandy River above Louisa.” A bushel of salt from the Middle Creek salt works generally sold for two and three dollars during the war.

Site of the Middle Creek Salt Works, David, KY
In Carter County, salt was manufactured extensively at the Salines of the Little Sandy River as early as 1801. The community which sprang up around the Little Sandy salt works was first called Crossroads, and then renamed Grayson in 1838. One of the men engaged in salt making was Jesse Boone, son of Daniel, who, with partner Amos Kibbe, carried on the salt making business for a number of years and then sold out in 1816. By 1820, the area had become a major salt producer, manufacturing ten thousand bushels of salt yearly. By 1829, however, salt production on the Little Sandy declined, unable to compete in quality and price with the Goose Creek Salt Works in Clay County and salt operations on Green River. In 1837, Carter’s salt works was the only one still in operation.

Despite the decline in salt making it continued in Carter County throughout the Civil War, albeit on a smaller scale. Dr. Landsdowne, a Confederate sympathizer, operated a salt furnace on his property near Grayson. After his arrest by Union troops in the fall of 1861, Landsdowne left Carter County for the duration of the war and leased his house, property, store and salt furnace to George W. Mead, “with all the appurtenances thereto belonging, together with salt wells sufficient for the manufacture of salt at said furnace and the privilege of using coal, &c., in the business of making salt.” One of the conditions of the lease was for Mead, “to construct a salt furnace for the manufacture of salt at the furnace above described and opening and working such wells as the said Mead may deem most expedient."

Similar small enterprises existed throughout Eastern Kentucky which produced salt mostly for domestic use. William Jackson Cope, a Confederate soldier who served in the 10th KY Cavalry, made salt on his father’s farm on Quicksand in Perry County during the Civil War.

In the 1930’s, Tom Haddix of Breathitt County recalled the old salt works at Haddix, situated on Lost Creek, near the mouth of Troublesome. “Salt water was piped into a cistern and then piped so it would run into the salt kettles. We built a furnace of stones, made a hot fire in it, and put the kettles of water on to boil. The water boiled down and left the salt. The most of the kettles were large … During the war we made just about enough salt for the people around here.”

Haddix noted that “the Nobles had a salt well, too.” Granville Pearl Noble told about his family’s salt operations in Breathitt County,” Yes, we'd salt wells, one on Lost Creek. I made salt, myself, during the Civil War. We would pump the saltwater by hand, then we'd put it into the big salt kettles and boil it about two days and a night. When it boiled down, we'd have salt. The neighbors came a long way to get the salt. During the war we just made enough for our own use because we couldn't get a price for anything.”

One of the larger salt enterprises in Eastern Kentucky belonged to a Confederate general but, ironically, his salt works never contributed an ounce of salt to either army. Warfield was established in Lawrence County, now Martin, in the early 1850's as a coal, salt and lumber community by George Rogers Clark Floyd and John Warfield of Virginia. It is located on the Tug Fork of the Big Sandy River, some sixty miles above Catlettsburg. On March 3, 1857, George Rogers Clark Floyd deeded all the Warfield property to his brother John B. Floyd. On May 23, 1861, Floyd was commissioned brigadier-general in the Confederate Army and subsequently had command of the "Virginia State Line," which operated mainly in western and southwestern Virginia. Upon his departure, Floyd left agents in charge to look after the welfare of the property. Great quantities of salt were made at Warfield before the Civil War which were transported by boat to Catlettsburg but at the beginning of hostilities production ceased. On January 21, 1862, Floyd’s vast Warfield property of 15,000 acres came under a sheriff's sale and was acquired by two Kentucky Union officers and their spouses, Colonel Laban T. Moore and wife Sarah, Col. George W. Gallup and wife Rebecca, as well as Joseph Tromstine, a Cincinnati investor and his wife Bertha. Thus the Warfield salt works remained in Union hands throughout the war and out of reach of the Confederacy. The production of salt was resumed after the end of the Civil War.

Links of Interest

Confederate General John B. Floyd and the Warfield Saltworks

Skirmish at Landsdowne Hall

Little Sandy Salt Works

The Battle of Leatherwood

Goose Creek Salt Works Village
A project of the Clay Co. Genealogical and Historical Society

Manchester Virtual Tour

One Foggy Morning in Barbourville, Kentucky
By Ray Atkins

Article was researched and written by Marlitta H. Perkins, Aug./Sept. 2012 and is under full copyright. Copyright © 2012. All Rights Reserved.