No Getting Around Johnson's Crook on the Way to Chickamauga
by Gordon Thorsby
There were Rivers, swamps, mountains, creeks, fords, and gaps. Then, there was Johnson’s Crook?
Typical geography doesn’t describe “crooks.” The English language does not really define the geographical definition of “crook.” The closest definition is a bend. Johnson’s Crook might be described by a sharp hook in the entry onto the top of Lookout Mountain. To help, understand, look at the map below.
To get up to the top of Lookout mountain, there were two roads and Johnson’s Crook was the south entrance onto the top. One had to the climb 2000 foot Sand Mountain west of Lookout, descend into Lookout Valley and by traveling along Lookout Creek a few miles you would take the crook up 2200 feet up the steep road. The crook was about four miles outside of a small little place called Trenton, GA, then to a smaller town called Rising Fawn and then to the road switchback up the crook. The crook was developed by the flow of Hurricane Creek down the Mountain and ran into Lookout creek in the valley below. Johnson’s Crook was the only good way over Lookout Mountain during the war. Few residents of the area thought the war would come to the area but bloody Chickamauga and decisive Chattanooga changed those presumptions forever. Johnson’s Crook was not so terrible for the cost in men and horses going up and down that awful road. It was that the road that many traveled to and from death and destruction.
In early September, 1863, Gen. George Thomas’ to the Army of the Cumberland 25,000 strong, where four divisions were strung out from Trenton, through Rising Fawn and to the base of the mountain. It was a two day climb to reach the top of Lookout on Johnson's Crook. Maybe not sheer climbing but soldiers said that it was only in degrees. No more than 100 Confederate cavalrymen held off Negley’s entire division for most of a day. There was no getting around any defense on such a narrow pass.
Including the small fight against the 100 gray troopers and getting divisional trains to the top, it required three days to move one entire division. Once to the top, they could enter Stephan’s Gap. The other three divisions waited for their turns in the valley below. Thomas fretted his divisions so stretched out and flanks exposed. To make it worse, his closest support was Crittenden at the north side of the mountain 20 miles away and McCook twenty-six miles south. On September 16th, the historian of the 73rd Illinois Infantry wrote, "At 10 a.m. the regiment started up the mountain, leaving eight men with each wagon to help the mules up the steep road with the train. It required the putting forth of the utmost strength of the mules and men to get the train over the most difficult places in the road. "
Charles R. Dana, wrote “The roads are worse than those over any other mountains in the country; not impassable, but very destructive to wagons. The valleys are narrow, irregular, and bare of corn and cattle.”
In the Chattanooga Campaign, the the Confederate Army of Tennessee owned this real estate but they had problems as well. Bragg had to get supplies up the mountain to feed his men. The other route on the north side of Lookout was under Union guns or Johnson’s Crook. Longstreet identified that if Lookout Mountain was be assaulted it would be by Johnson’s Crook. Bragg thought Longstreet loopy because a brigade could hold off anything coming up Johnson’s Crook from the valley below.
To man and beast who traveled who went up or down that horrible road and lived through the battles of Chickamauga and Chattanooga, Johnson’s Crook never left good memories. For many who ascended the crook in September, 1863, they were left on the fields around Chickamauga Creek.
the modern day
The Impulse of Victory, Powell, David A., Savas Beatie, p. 28-29, 41-44.
Shipwreck of Their Hopes, Cozzens, Peter, University of Illinois Press, 1996. P66-68
Chickamauga Campaign, Powell, David A., Savas Beatie, 2016. PP 191-192.
Dade County Historical Society of Trenton, Georgia - The Route to the Battle of Chickamauga
Archive and files Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park Raymond Evans, The Civil War in Dade County .
Official Records of the Rebellion Serial 103 Page 0038 KY., S. W. VA., TENN., N. &C. GA., MISS., ALA., & W. FL. Serial 103 Page 0040.
Photos of Johnson's Crook are from Chickamauga Heritage Trail, Chickamaugacampaign.org