This Long-Rifled Cannon Was Very Important To Thousands Of “Billy Yanks” And “Johnny Rebs”
By Dr. Robert Kincaid 1953
In Kentucky Magazine
Twice a weapon of Confederate troops, twice a weapon for the Union, twice snaked to the top of Cumberland Gap’s towering pinnacle to hold thundering command of the strategic gap from its lofty mount, twice shoved off the precipice by retreating gun crews who hoped to render it useless to their opponents, and twice mounted on the mountain slopes below the pinnacle by troops too weary to attempt to haul it again to the summit was one of the longest and biggest guns used in the Civil War, the Long Tom. This gun has become an enduring legend of Cumberland Gap, the historic gateway from Virginia and Tennessee into Kentucky.
Authentic details of this long-rifled cannon have been lost in the mists of time, but it was very real and important to thousands of Billy Yanks and Johnny Rebs who fought and skirmished around the craggy’ knobs of the famous pass in the Cumberland Mountains. When the war was over, the soldiers stationed at the Gap carried back to their families many stories of the big gun mounted on the crest of the Pinnacle, which they embellished with the telling the longer they lived.
To hear them tell it, no other gun in the war was so big or long, its artillerial exploits were chiefly to confound and terrorize bodies of enemy troops who dared to approach within five miles of the fortified pass. Its long, sleek muzzle pointed over a sheer precipice of 1,500 feet above the valley below, and its firing range reached into the rolling hills of Powell Valley.
Long Tom was a Confederate gun brought to Cumberland Gap and mounted on the Pinnacle soon after the passway into Kentucky was seized and fortified by Gen. Felix Zollicoffer in September 1861. It was believed to be one of four huge Whitworth rifled cannons made in England, purchased in that country by English friends of the Confederacy, and slipped through the blockade of Charleston, South Carolina, early in the war. (One of the four Whitworths, named “Lady Polk,” exploded at Columbia, Allen County, Kentucky, and killed 11 men and seriously injured General Leonidas Polk.)
But no such disaster came to Long Tom, mounted on the tallest mountain peak at Cumberland Gap. It was destined to be a valuable prize of war in the four-year struggle, and it was twice in the hands of the Confederates and twice held by the Federals. Thus, it became a gigantic piece of artillery which the soldiers of both armies regarded with hilarious affection.
When Zollicoffer brought in heavy guns to fortify the Gap and Long Tom was snaked up the back side of the Pinnacle to the crest, the fortress appeared to be impregnable. Zollicoffer’s Confederate forces drove deep into Southeastern Kentucky, maneuvered up and down the Wilderness Road, took the Goose Creek Salt Works, and finally met…
Finish this story and more in our April 2016 issue!
Love History? Get 1,100 pages and 1,000 Pictures delivered to your door for a nickel a day! Yes, you read that right, a nickel.