Majestic Cumberland Gap, standing where the states of Virginia, Tennessee, and Kentucky meet, might not have seen as much action during the American Civil War as Gettysburg or Vicksburg, but it was still seen as an important location by both North and South in terms of strategic planning.
For the South, the Gap was a way both to block the Union from making inroads into the heart of the Confederacy and an opening into the border state of Kentucky, a state with many Confederate sympathizers that might be persuaded to join the cause. For the Union, the Gap was literally a “Gateway” into eastern Tennessee, and a way to divide the Confederacy right down the middle. And both sides were well aware of the importance of controlling the railroad from Virginia to Tennessee.
Cumberland Gap changed hands three times during the War. The Confederates initially held it until June of 1862, when Union General George Morgan gained the advantage as Brigadier General Carter L. Stevenson and his men fell back to protect the railroads northeast of Knoxville. Three months later, however, after his supply lines had been cut by a resurgent Confederacy, Morgan retreated, blowing up the munitions storehouse as he retreated. The Confederacy then held the Gap until one year later, in September 1863, when Union General John de Courcy convinced Confederate General John Wesley Frazier to surrender without a shot, by creating the illusion that he had four times as many men and cannons than he really did. From that point, the Union held its position at Cumberland Gap until the end of the war, some 19 months later.
On Saturday and Sunday, October 10th and 11th, visitors to Cumberland Gap National Historical Park will have ample opportunity to learn more about the events of 145 years ago as the park presents, “The Civil War at Cumberland Gap: A War of Iron and Irony.” Not only will you learn about what actually happened here at the Gap, but the wider stories of the War will come alive as well, as you stand face to face with Abraham Lincoln, Robert E. Lee, plantation owners, soldiers, slaves, and women alone on the home front.
Venture underground into Gap Cave and see what was left behind, as soldiers and civilians relate their stories of hospital life and saltpeter mining. Spin your partner under the stars to the museum of the Civil War band “Un-Reconstructed” during the grand ball in the historic town of Cumberland Gap, nibble delicacies at the ladies’ tea and fashion show, and stand in awe of the unparalleled beauty of the Gap in its autumn splendor. And help us rededicate this place to the memory of the brave men and women who lived through the War, as we unveil the newly restored cannons on the Pinnacle.