The military positions held by our forces extended from the Floridas to Western Texas, on the Gulf, and upon the Mississippi from its mouth to Port Hudson. Key West, Pensacola, and Ship Island,on the Gulf, were strongly garrisoned, and threatened constantly with attack by the enemy. Forts Jackson and Saint Philip, and English Bend, of the lower river; New Orleans, Bonnet Carre, Donaldsonville, Plaquemine, and Baton Rouge, on the upper river; and Forts Pike and Macomb, on Lake Pontchartrain, leading to the Gulf, and Berwick Bay, were open to the incursions of the enemy, and, necessarily, strongly held by our forces. None of these could be evacuated, except the town of Pensacola, leaving a garrison in the permanent works at the navy-yard. All these positions were constantly threatened by an active and powerful enemy, who could concentrate at any point he pleased. That at Galveston had been captured by a force of not less than 24 men to 1. It was deemed inexpedient, with but slight knowledge of the condition of affairs, in the absence of any absolute necessity, to greatly weaken or expose any position then in our possession.
After garrisoning these numerous posts, the strongest force I could command for permanent offensive operations against Port Hudson did not exceed 12,000 or 14,000. It was impossible to attack so strong a position, garrisoned by a force so much larger, with any chance of success. Attention was, therefore, turned west of the Mississippi to the Atchafalaya and Teche, with a view of getting command of these waters, by which our gunboats could reach Red River, and communicate with the forces, naval and military, at Vicksburg, and cut off the supplies of the enemy west of the Mississippi. The first effort to accomplish this was made in an unsuccessful endeavor to open the Bayou Plaquemine, which communicated with the Atchafalaya near Butte-a-la-Rose.
The command of Brigadier-General Weitzel, on Berwick Bay, had been increased the first and second weeks in January to 4,500 men, with a view to operations upon the Teche, for the purpose of destroying the works and dispersing the forces of the enemy's on that bayou.
On January 11, he made a successful invasion of the Teche country, repulsed the forces of the enemy, and destroyed the gunboat Cotton. This relieved Berwick Bay from the danger of an attack by the enemy's most formidable gunboat, in case our forces, naval and military, moved up the Atchafalaya toward Butte-a-la-Rose. An attempt was then made to get possession of Butte-a-la-Rose, by combining the command of Weitzel, moving up the Atchafalaya, with that of General Emory, moving from the Mississippi by Bayou Plaquemine, their forces joining near Butte-a-la-Rose.
This attempt failed on account of the complete stoppage of Bayou Plaquemine by three years' accumulation of drift-logs and snags, filling the bayou from the bed of the stream, and rendering it impenetrable to our boats, and requiring the labor of months to open it for navigation. The troops were engaged in this work the most of the month of February.
During these operations on Bayou Plaquemine and the Atchafalaya, news was received of the capture by the enemy of the steamers Queen of the West and De Soto, which had run past the batteries at Vicksburg. This event was deemed of sufficient importance by Admiral Farragut to demand the occupation of the Mississippi between Port Hudson and Vicksburg, by running the batteries on the river at Port Hudson, in order to destroy these boats and cut off the enemy's communication by the Red River with Vicksburg and Port Hudson, thus