Cumberland Gap National Park Visitors Center
This national park was established in 1940 and offers visitors the chance to explore the Cumberland Gap, a natural route between the Appalachian Mountains where Kentucky, Virginia, and Tennessee meet. The gap was originally used by Native Americans, but it also saw battles during the Civil War. Today, there are many historic structures that guests can visit as well as a museum and many interpretive trails that offer an immersive experience into the history and beauty of this ancient highway that connected Native tribes, European settlers, and modern Americans.
Backstory and Context
Among the first people to travel through the gap were the Native Americans. They called it the Warrior's Path. Both Cherokee and Shawnee tribes traveled through it on their way in and out of Kentucky and they used it as a hunting ground. During the 18th century, settlers of European descent began traveling through this gap in the mountains along what was then known as the Wilderness Road. Thousands of future homesteaders traveled through the gap during their migratory trek to western lands prior to the creation of railroad.
Although the Cumberland Gap was not the site of any major battles during the Civil War, this route was traveled by many soldiers and control of the route was vital. Confederate General Felix Zollicoffer took control of the Cumberland Gap in the early years of the Civil War. Troops under his command began building fortifications on the northern side of the Cumberland Gap in hopes of blocking Union soldiers from utilizing the shortcut. Zollicoffer was the commander of Confederate troops in the area until 1862 when General Stevenson was placed in charge. Stevenson's men were ordered to assist Confederate troops in Tennessee. After Confederate forces left, Union General George Morgan took control of the area and also built forts along the southern side for a similar reason.
In 1862, the Union soldiers in this area were ordered to assist in an offensive campaign and for a time Confederate General Bragg took control of this area. In September of 1863, Union General Ambrose Burnside arrived at the Cumberland Gap from the south but did not attempt to control the route because he lacked the manpower to garrison the area.