OFFICE PROVOST-MARSHAL SAINT LOUIS DISTRICT, January 27, 1863.
Brigadier General E. A. CARR,
Commanding Saint Louis District:
GENERAL: I beg leave to call your attention to the fact that the crime of desertion in the armies of the West is assuming fearful proportions. The number of communications received by me daily show that, while it has been serious for months past,it is a growing evil. Communications are frequently received from the army of General Grant and that of General Rosecrans, as well as from officers in this department. It is impossible for any considerable desertions to take place from these armies if there is a proper surveillance observed at the several military posts through which soldiers must past to reach the loyal States, and I beg leave respectfully to suggest that sure means of prevention should be adopted at military posts such as Paducah, Cairo, &c., before they reach the public lines of travel. Before this they must travel upon Government transports almost entirely,with persons every one of whom should be able to show his right to travel upon them. After they reach Cairo they become intermingled with the traveling public, and it is impossible to detect them.
I have reports of large numbers of deserters from the army while at Helena. It cannot be presumed that any considerable number went over to the enemy, or that in their desire to reach the loyal States they traveled through the country held by the enemy. They must have passed up the Mississippi upon Government boats. The same may be said of deserters from Nashville, Corinth, Holly Springs, and other military posts in the enemy's country. They must travel on Government boats, or on railroad used by the Government. If a proper surveillance was exercised upon them, I feel confident that much good would result.
Another cause I believe to be the neglect to punish when returned to their regiments. I have ascertained,upon inquiry, that it is a common practice to return deserters to the ranks when recovered with scarcely and admonition. Such a practice prevailing, there is no restraint upon those who may wish to leave. The number of deserters who have been returned to their regiments from Saint Louis are numbered by hundreds, and the number of stragglers, semi-deserters, &c., by thousands, and I cannot but think that, after all, it is but a small proportion of those who desert who come to Saint Louis.
I submit these suggestions in the belief that, if they can be followed out, it will result in much good to the service.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
GEO. E. LEIGHTON,
Major and Provost-Marshal-General.
HEADQUARTERS SAINT LOUIS DISTRICT, January 28, 1863.
This paper is respectfully forwarded to higher authority, as I have no control over the boats or the towns on the rivers.
I think that the neglect to punish crimes is one cause of many of the disorders in the army.
E. A. CARR,