The old Wilderness Road cutting through the Gap was a natural invasion route. For the Confederacy, it led to the rich Kentucky bluegrass country to the north. For the Union, it led to the Northern sympathizers of East Tennessee, and to an opportunity to cut rebel supply lines. In late summer of 1861, the Confederacy seized the Gap and made it the eastern anchor of a defense line extending to the Mississippi River. Brigadier General William Churchwell was placed in command, and fortified the garrison during the fall of 1861. He built seven forts on the north facing slope, and cleared the mountains of all trees within one mile of each fort. Needed more elsewhere, the Confederates abandoned the Gap in June 1862.