Sandra Scott Travels: The Human Side Of The Civil War

Last week we asked, “Where is the Cumberland Gap?”

Between Kentucky, Virginia and Tennessee.

Viewing The Cumberland Gap
Viewing The Cumberland Gap

The Cumberland Gap is a narrow pass through the Cumberland Mountains, near the junction of Kentucky, Virginia and Tennessee.

It was the gateway to the west for early pioneers and later became the route of the military during the Civil War.

Today, it is part of the Cumberland Gap National Historic Park.

The nearby Hensley Settlement is now a historic site on top of Brush Mountain.

There are fence-line lanes, a blacksmith shop, springhouse, homestead and a one-room school house.


Approximately 25 of the original buildings have been restored and the surrounding land has been returned to the original farming and pasture scene of its original appearance.

On the Tennessee side of the Gap is Lincoln Memorial University. Tennessee was a Confederate State and President Abraham Lincoln never stepped foot in Tennessee; but in a talk with Civil War General Oliver Otis Howard, Lincoln pointed to the Cumberland Gap on a military map and asked Howard, “Can’t you go through here and seize Knoxville?”

Lincoln knew the mountain people in that area were loyal to the Union and Lincoln went on to say, “General, if you come out of this horror and misery alive, I want you to do something for those mountain people…”

Lincoln Memorial University museum

Howard fulfilled his promise to President Lincoln, and in 1897, was instrumental in founding Lincoln Memorial University, as a “living memorial” to Abraham Lincoln.

He considered it a reunion effort, a time to “put aside all animosity and embrace America.”

Through the years the university collected Lincoln memorabilia that grew to become the present museum.

Honoring President Lincoln
Honoring President Lincoln

The university is home to the only Lincoln Museum in what was a Confederate state.

Each year the university in partnership with the town of Cumberland Gap with re-enacts a scrimmage, “The Gap Divided,” a living history and reenactment that includes infantry, Calvary, and artillery demonstrations for control of the Cumberland Gap.

John and I were lucky to be there for the re-enactment.

It was impressive as the Calvary came charging over the hill.

I was surprised to see some of the soldiers were outfitted in red and white stripped uniforms.

On the "battlefield"
On the “battlefield”

It seems the only material available to a local Union militia was pajama material so they used it for uniforms.

One of the events that weekend was “Meet the Generals” whereby people portrayed various Civil War personality.

It was excellent.

Learning about the people associated with a place puts a human face on travel and permanently fixes the experience in one’s memory.

That is what happened at the Lincoln Museum when we meet General Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson and General John C. Breckenridge – albeit through re-enactors.

“Stonewall” Jackson, Robert E. Lee’s most trusted lieutenant, said, “I never liked the name ‘Stonewall’ because it is not what I am like.”

Stonewall re-enactor
Stonewall re-enactor

His heartrending story of the deaths of his mother, sister and daughter shattered his “Stonewall” image.

Robert E. Lee discussed his agonizing decision to lead the Confederate Army instead of the Northern Army, “God knows I didn’t want this war – but I came from a long military family. And, I am a Virginian.”

Breckenridge’s tale was the “rest of the story.”

The former, and youngest ever, vice president sided with the Confederacy.

After the war he was considered a traitor and fled the United States.

After being granted amnesty, he returned to Lexington, Kentucky and resumed the practice of law.

Lincoln Stonewall re-enactor
Lincoln Stonewall re-enactor

“The country was mending. I was accepted back into the community with no animosity,” he said.

Travel Trivia Tease™: Is it safe to visit Honduras?

Look for the answer next week.

Sandra and her husband, John, have been exploring the world for decades, always on the lookout for something new and unique to experience. We have sailed down the Nile for a week on a felucca, stayed with the Pesch Indians in La Mosquitia, visited schools in a variety of countries, and — to add balance to our life — stayed at some of the most luxurious hotels in the world. Let the fun continue!