Some Notes About New Orleans — Its Approaches and Surroundings.
The reported occupation of the city of New Orleans by the Federal forces, under command of Gen. Butler, renders all information in regard to the location and surroundings of the great Southern emporium of more than ordinary interest.
By consulting an accurate map it will be seen that New Orleans is situated on the North side of the Mississippi river, which, for a distance of a hundred miles, flows almost in an easterly direction, inclining but little to the South. Immediately opposite the city the river makes a considerable curve to the North, preparatory to taking a more southerly course towards the sea. On the outside of the arc of a circle formed by this bend, the city is located, extending some seven miles along the river. The peculiar shape of the city front, as determined by the direction of the channel of the river, has given rise to the name of the "Crescent City." Before the war, at some seasons, the landing throughout its whole length was crowded with shipping, the vessels often lying two or three deep. Not only steamboats from the Upper Mississippi, from the Ohio, Arkansas and Red river, and other tributaries of the "Father of Waters," were to be seen there in large numbers, but the flag of almost every maritime nation floated from the shipping in the harbor. At such seasons the piles of cotton, sugar and the varied products of the Mississippi Valley, throughout its whole extent, mingles with the merchandise from numberless foreign ports, made its wharf the wonder and admiration of strangers from all parts of the world. For twelve months past, however, all this has been changed — the harbor stripped of its shipping, the levee bare of its rich merchandise and products; and instead of the bustle of business and the customary signs of unexampled commercial prosperity, stagnation, revived only by warlike preparations, has reigned supreme — and all this caused by the suicidal policy of Secession.
The surroundings of New Orleans are important as demonstrating the practicability of holding it against any attempts on the part of the rebels for its recapture. Owing to its numerous water approaches, it is peculiarly exposed to successful attack by a power possessing an efficient navy, especially if defended without one — and the recent success of our forces there is largely due to this fact. Once in possession of the river, which we now have, (if the reports of capture are to be relied upon, and of Lake Pontchartrain, (which we probably have by this time,) our forces may bid defiance to any movement upon the city by any land forces whatever. The peculiar difficulty of any such movement may be seen from the singular conformation and geographical features of the country.
A chain of lakes — three in number — extends from the Gulf of Mexico on the eastern side of the Mississippi towards the interior not less than fifty or sixty miles north of New Orleans. The outer one is Lake Borgne connected with the Gulf by passes through which a regular line of steamboats used to ply between New Orleans and Mobile, the second and largest, Lake Pontchartrain, lying immediately back of the city, its western shore running almost parallel with the Mississippi river for a long distance and but a few miles from it; and finally, Lake Manrepas, the smallest, which lies northwest of Pontchartrain. The connection between the two last named lakes is a narrow pass or channel of a few miles in length, about as wide as the Illinois river towards it mouth when bank full. This channel is called Pass Manchac, (pronounced Misnshak) and, like the lakes themselves, is navigable for vessels of considerable size.
The New Orleans and Great Northern Hail way, which is built upon the neck of land between the river and lake, approaches in sight of the river at St. Charles, (about twelve miles above the city,) then diverges from it towards Lake Pontchartrain, along the shore (and sometimes in sight) of which it runs for a long distance, and finally crosses Pass Manchas where it debouches into Lake Murepas, about thirty-nine miles above New Orleans. The bridge across the Pass is furnished with a draw to enable vessels to pass from one lake to the other. The country for several miles north of this Pass and for twenty miles south is an unbroken cypress swamp, at this season of the year almost entirely covered with water. A small naval force in the lakes would command their whole length, and would render all approach to the city from this direction impossible. The Confederates had a small force for the purpose of fortifying at Pass Manchac last summer, but their defenses there have probably been abandoned, or will be on the appearance of an attacking force. It is reported already that they have destroyed their gunboats on Lake Pontchartrain, from which it would seem that they intend to surrender it without a struggle. It is apparent, therefore, that the only way of approach to the city by an attacking force on the east side of the Mississippi would be by the neck of land between the river and the lakes. If our troops command this approach, which will be easy with the others in their possession, New Orleans can be cut off from the communication with all rebeldom, and the "rest of man kind."
The river for a hundred and fifty miles above New Orleans is lined on both sides with sugar plantations in the highest state of cultivation, and proverbial for their fertility and productiveness. At a distance of one to two miles from the river, however, the land descends into swamps, at this time filled with water. Gunboats upon the river, besides being able to open the river almost without opposition to Memphis, would be able to control most of the available land approaches to the city. If all other means of rebelling an attack fail, our forces have it in their power to render the approach of an opposition force impossible by cutting the levees and flooding the country. This would be a terrible alternative, however, and it is to be hoped that our troops may not be compelled in order to maintain the footing they have already obtained, to imitate the vandalism of the Confederates at Fort Pillow. Approach to the city from the west, even if the Confederates had an army on that side of the river, would be even more difficult, as the country is overlaid with a network of bayous, which at this season present almost insurmountable obstacles to the movement of an army. So it will be seen that, with the "means which God and nature have placed in our power," and with the work already on their hands at Corinth, Yorktown and elsewhere, it is not probable that any attempt will be made for the recovery of New Orleans.
A bayou once connected Lake Maurepas with the Mississippi river which thus formed an outlet for a part of its surplus waters through the lakes; but it was closed up by Gen. Jackson, at the time of his defense of New Orleans in the winter of 1814-'15, in order to prevent the British from taking their vessels into the Mississippi by way of the lakes, and it has never been re-opened.
On the west a railroad extends from the town of Algiers, opposite New Orleans, some eighty miles to Brashear City, on Berwick Bay. This bay is formed by the widening of the Atchafalaya river or bayou, which separates from Red river a short distance above its mouth, by which means a portion of the waters of Red river find a more direct route to the Gulf than by the channel of the Mississippi. When the waters of Red river and the Mississippi are high, this bayou is navigable throughout its whole length. Other bayous diverge from it which are navigable during a part of the year, and which connect Berwick Bay with the richest cotton and sugar growing part of the State. One of the most celebrated of these, a Bayou Plaquemine, which leaves the Mississippi one hundred and ten miles above New Orleans, cuts its way about twelve miles through the rich alluvial which forms each bank of the Mississippi in this part of its course, and unites with a narrow, but deep and sluggish stream, called Grand River through the channel of which it finds its way into the lower part of Berwick Bay. Bayou La Fourche leaves the river some thirty miles further down, and reaches the Gulf by a shorter course. All these bayous are navigable during seasons of high water, and Grant River is navigable far into the interior. The intricate and little known windings of these bayous, are said to have furnished retreats for hordes of pirates in the early history of the country — among them the famous Lafitte. The line of rebel coast defenses being once broken, they may now furnish the means by which an important part of the South may be controlled and be brought into subjection to the just and constitutional authority of the government.
The harbor furnished by Berwick Bay was one of the best on the Gulf coast, next to that one at Pensacola, but it is reported to have been obstructed by the Confederates in order to prevent the approach of Federal vessels in this direction.
The officers and employees of the railroad mentioned above, were also reported a few months ago to have been arrested, under suspicion of an intention to surrender the railroad and rolling stock into the hands of our troops in case of an attack in that quarter.
Camp Moore, to which the rebel force, under Gen. Lovell, have retired since the evacuation of New Orleans, is on the New Orleans and Great Northern Railroad, where it crosses a small river called "Tangipahoa," about seventy eight miles from New Orleans. It was established about a year ago as a camp of instruction, and was selected there on account of the healthfulness and salubriety of the location. It seems now to have been chosen by Gen. Lovell for a similar reason, as he found New Orleans uncomfortably war on the approach of the Federal gunboats. Dr. Russell, the correspondent of the London Times, paid it a visit less than a year ago, of which he gave an account in one of his letters from New Orleans.