The Cumberland Gap is a mountain pass in Claiborne County, northeastern Tennessee near the intersection with Kentucky and North Carolina. A natural low spot in the Cumberland Plateau range of the Appalachian Mountains, the gap rises only to 1,650 feet (500 meters). The gap was first discovered by European Americans in 1750 when land speculator and explorer Thomas Walker (1715–94) led a party to survey lands in the west. The Wilderness Road, forged between 1761 and 1771 by American pioneer Daniel Boone (c. 1734–1820), ran through Cumberland Gap. The gap became a strategic military objective for both sides during the American Civil War (1861–65). Today it is a National Historic Park.
CUMBERLAND GAP, one of the clearest passes through the Cumberland Mountains in the Appalachian Range, lies where Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia meet. First used to connect the vast system of trails used by the Indians to the game-rich country of Kentucky, the pass became, by the ninteenth century, one of the most significant gateways for white hunters. Dr. Thomas Walker named the gap in 1750 when he and his party went through it while speculating for the Loyal Land Company. In 1775, Daniel Boone and his party marked out the Wilderness Road through the Gap to the Kentucky River for the Transylvania Company, which facilitated both settlers and commerce through the mountains.
Cumberland Gap was a strategic point during the Civil War. The Confederates occupied it very early, but retired in June 1862 to strengthen their hold on Chattanooga. Soon thereafter Gen. George W. Morgan, who had been trying to dislodge Gen. Kirby Smith, then in command there, fortified his position and from it distributed supplies to East Tennessee until after Smith's victory at Richmond on 30 August 1862, when the Confederates occupied the pass again. Gen. Braxton Bragg retreated through the defile after his defeat at Perryville in October 1862, but Union forces did not retake it until September 1863. They retained possession until the end of the war.
The Southern and the Louisville and Nashville Railroads reached the pass in 1889 and 1890, respectively, and today a major highway also uses the gateway.
Chinn, George Morgan. Kentucky Settlement and Statehood, 1750–1800. Frankfort: Kentucky Historical Society, 1975.
Friend, Craig Thompson, ed. The Buzzel about Kentuck: Settling the Promised Land. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1999.
Jonathan T.Dorris/h. s.
Cumberland Gap, natural passage through the Cumberland Mts., near the point where Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee meet. The gap was formed by the erosive action of a stream that once flowed there. It was explored and named in 1750 by Dr. Thomas Walker, leader of a land company exploration party. Daniel Boone's Wilderness Road ran through the gap. A strategic point in the Civil War, the gap was held alternately by Confederate and Union forces. Cumberland Gap National Historical Park was established in 1940 (see National Parks and Monuments, table).