Friday, December 26, and marched my brigade out about 1 1\2 miles on the Vicksburg road, taking position in line on the right of General Blair's brigade, where we bivouacked.
In the morning (27th) we followed Blair's brigade till we were halted in this rear at the open field, which is in front of Major-General Sherman's headquarters. After an hour's delay I was ordered by General Smith to send a regiment to reconnoiter the woods on the right of the open field. I sent the Fifty-fifth Illinois, Lieutenant-Colonel Malmborg commanding, accompanied by the Fifty-eighth Onio, of General Blair's brigade. They crossed a bayou near at hand on a fallen tree, swimming their horses across, and soon encountered the enemy's skirmishers in force of from 300 to 500, as reported to me. I crossed the remaining regiments of the brigade at once, and rapidly advanced to the point of the heaviest firing. Before reaching it our advanced regiments had driven the enemy cross the large bayou now in our front. They crossed at a narrow and difficult ford or pass. Upon reaching the brink of the bayou our troops were received by a very heavy volley of musketry from a line of rifle-pits constructed along the levee on the opposite shore. Their fire was promptly returned, and, taking cover in the abatis, a sharp fire was kept up till dark.
Reconnoitering at night disclosed an old ford which the enemy had obstructed along the steep descent of the bank by felling heavy tress which formed an impassable entanglement. On the opposite shore the bank was near if not quite 29 feet high and deeply underwork by the water. The only way of ascending the steep was a badly obstructed and narrow path, the enemy on the left of it from their rifle-pits commanding is perfectly so as to drop every man who attempted to ascend is as fast as he appeared. Opposite this ford they planted a battery. I employed a working party under Captain White, of the One hundred and sixteenth Illinois, to clear away the most of the timber and obstructions leading to the ford, and, to cover their operations, kept up a fire of the skirmishers on the bank of the bayou, and opened at 4 a. m. with Captain Barrett's (Company A) Chicago Battery. The enemy replied from two batteries and by their sharpshooters from the rifle-pits.
Before sunrise a large proportion of the obstructions were removed, but nearer the foot of the hill it was impossible to continue the work. Early in the morning I reported the condition of thighs to Brigadier General M. L. Smith, commanding the division, who ordered me to refer to Major-General Sherman for further orders. General Sherman ordered me to keep the enemy occupied and make arrangements to cross simultaneously with General Morgan's advance if possible. I reported his orders to General Smith, who immediately went out himself to the place. He was severely wounded by a rifle-ball from the pits soon after coming on the field, and I assumed, by General Sherman's order, temporary command of the division about 8 o'clock in the morning. The demonstrations in the front were so formidable that I at once ordered forward the First Brigade, with Company A, Chicago battery, and the found 20-pounder Parrott guns, commanded by Lieutenant Hart.
Colonel Giles Smith commanded the First Brigade and Colonel T. Kilby Smith, Forty-fourth Ohio, the Fourth. I communicated to these officers General Sherman's orders and charged Colonel Smith, Fifty-fourth Ohio, specially with the duty of clearing away the road to the crossing and getting into the best condition for effecting our crossing that he possibly could. The work was vigorously pressed under his immediate supervision and orders, and he devoted himself to it with as much energy