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[138]

The ruse of the whistles: the guarded track, Corinth, Mississippi, 1862 The Tishomingo Hotel was an old hostelry forming practically the railway station at Corinth, Miss., and here was played a little comedy by way of prelude to the tragic spectacle that was to happen on this very scene. After the battle of Shiloh, General Beauregard retreated to Corinth, where soon the Confederate army numbered about eighty thousand men. Halleck. who had assumed command in person, after a little delay started in pursuit at the head of the largest army ever assembled west of the Alleghanies, numbering more than 135,000 effective men. But the great forces did not come to decisive blows; Halleck, as usual, did not act with energy. For more than a month he went on gathering still more reenforcements, planning and organizing, all the time closing in slowly on Corinth. It was expected that a conclusive battle would soon take place, but Beauregard did not risk the test of arms. Keeping his intentions absolutely secret, he decided to evacuate. This plan was carried out with great cleverness; his army with its stores and munitions boarded the assembled railway trains on the night of May 29, 1862, and the roads to the southward were filled with wagons and marching troops. But along the Confederate front the watch-fires burned brightly; and Halleck's army, waiting within earshot, heard sounds of commotion — the tooting of locomotive whistles and, with every fresh clear blast, loud cheers. It was rumored through the Federal Camp that strong Confederate reenforcements were arriving. Into the gray of the morning this continued. The troops awoke with the nervous expectancy of battle, but before them lay a deserted town. The whistling and the cheering had covered Beauregard's retreat. The “movement of artillery” that had been reported had been some old wagons driven round in a circle. General Pope was sent in pursuit of the wily Confederate leader, but failed to force him to a stand. The evacuation had opened the Tennessee River, and finally resulted in giving the Federals the control of the Mississippi from Cairo to Memphis.

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