The Civil War at Cumberland Gap: A War of Iron and Irony

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Date: October 2, 2009
Contact: Carol Borneman, (606) 248-2817

Civil War soldiers with cannon

Special Heritage Event to Include Crème de la Crème of Re-enactors and Historians

On October 9, 10 and 11, Cumberland Gap National Historical Park will present “A War of Iron and Irony,” a Civil War event dedicated to showing the visitor the stories behind the battles of America’s divisive war.

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.

To tell the stories of both soldiers and civilians, the park has planned a variety of programs for the weekend.  On Friday, the park will host more than 1300 schoolchildren as they travel through time to meet the people behind the stories.  United States President Abraham Lincoln will paint a picture of the Union in 1861, while Confederate General Robert E. Lee will describe the painfully difficult choice he had to make in choosing his allegiance.

Park visitors will see the South through the eyes of those often overlooked – the slaves who literally kept the home fires burning, demonstrating their skills at brick making;  the women left at home, and their important work of cloth-making; the men who supplied the army’s needs, the quartermaster and blacksmith; the farmers, whose livelihood was disrupted and sometimes changed forever by the conflict; and the soldiers, Union and Confederate, white and black, and the hardships and triumphs they experienced.  This timeline will be set up on the visitor center grounds for the entire weekend.

Friday night will bring more authentic experiences as passionate rhetoric rings out at a recreated secession debate beginning at 7 p.m. in the auditorium of the Abraham Lincoln Library and Museum in nearby Harrogate, TN.  Saturday brings a Ladies Tea at 3:00 p.m. under the stately oaks on the national park visitor center’s upper veranda.  At 7 p.m. on Saturday evening, ball room gowns will capture the eye as the annual evening ball unveils at the Pavilion in the towne of Cumberland Gap TN, with authentic Civil War-era music by the band “Unreconstructed.”  One need not have a ball gown to swirl and twirl nor do one’s dance steps need to be perfected.  Simply come and dance the night away.  More music will also be played on Sunday in the park auditorium at 1:30 p.m.  Also in the visitor center auditorium during the weekend are talks by Civil War expert Dick Crews on why eastern Tennessee was such a Union stronghold, and the origins of the tune, “Taps.”  Presidents Andrew Johnson and Jefferson Davis will also make appearances throughout the weekend in the visitor center auditorium.

The park has scheduled several “in-depth” tours of the park’s remaining Civil War fortifications.  On Friday afternoon at 4:30 p.m., the newly refurbished cannon at Fort Lyons, located near the Pinnacle Overlook, will be rededicated.  Immediately following the cannon rededication, Civil War historian and author Dr. Earl Hess will be leading the Northern Ridgetop Defenses walk, giving visitors the opportunity to see little known earthworks defenses that were part of the general fortification system of Cumberland Gap, and learn about how engineers and soldiers managed to fit earthworks onto the top of a snake-like ridge.  On Saturday at 12:30 p.m., Dr. Michael Toomey, past Curator of History for the East Tennessee Historical Society, will lead From Gateway to Outpost, a tour exploring the roads and fortifications in the saddle of the Cumberland Gap itself and how they changed over the course of the war.

Gap Cave will set the stage for evening tours both Friday and Saturday as visitors meet some of the soldiers whose signatures still appear on the walls of the cave, as well as the doctors and others who helped them.  This is the only portion of the weekend which will have a charge, and attendance is on a first come, first served basis.  Visitors interested in the weekend evening cave tours must show up in person each evening at the Daniel Boone parking area.  Tickets will first go on sale at 5 p.m.  Each evening, the first tour begins at 7 p.m.; tours will continue at 15 minute intervals through 9 p.m.  Ticket costs are $8.00 for adults and $4.00 for children twelve and under.  Children under five are not allowed.  Visitors MUST bring their own flashlights.

Friday’s venue opens at 9 a.m. and closes at 4 p.m. while venue hours on Saturday are from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.  The visitor center opens at 8:00 a.m. each day. 

For more information on this and other park programs, please call 606-248-2817, extension 1075.

Last updated: April 14, 2015

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91 Bartlett Park Road
Middlesboro, KY 40965


(606) 248-2817

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