and Seven-Mile Island. It will take him two days to cross. Am directing Lieutenant Fitch to send two gunboats.
ROBT. B. MITCHELL,
Brigadier-General, Commanding Post.
February 17, 1863 - 3 p. m.
The effect of the state of party agitation at the North is to encourage desertion. To counteract this in my army, at least, I deem two things necessary: First, that I have the power of confirming and promptly executing sentence of death for desertion. Second, that I have the authority to send proper details of officers, and, if necessary, men, to arrest and bring back absentees, whether deserters, paroled prisoners, skulkers, convalescents, or stragglers. I have once requested this of the War Department, but have not yet received a reply. I beg your attention to this matter, as one requiring immediate attention. Ther are 40,000 absentees from this army to-day.
W. S. ROSECRANS,
[FEBRUARY 17 and 19, 1863. - For Rosecrans to Joseph E. Johnston, see Series II.]
WASHINGTON, D. C., February 18, 1863.
GENERAL: In your telegram of last evening you ask the power of confirming and promptly executing sentences of death for desertion. You must be aware, general, that no such power can be conferred upon you by the President or Secretary of War. The law is positive that no such sentence shall be executed till approved by the President. The President cannot change this law, and it is his duty, as well as yours and mine, to obey the law. I have advised the repeal of this statute, and there is a bill before Congress for that purpose. It may, or may not, pass. Until repealed, the law must be obeyed. In regard to authorizing you to send officers and armed men into other departments than your own, to look up and arrest deserters, it is believed that such a measure would weaken rather than increase the numbers of your army, besides the risks of conflict between the civil authorities and indiscreet officers sent on that service. The results of sending such parties from the Army of the Potomac, to arrest deserters, have proved that the plan is not a good one. The best way to prevent desertion here has been the sending out of patrols on the roads upon which deserters seek to return to their States. There is a bill before Congress to provide means for arresting deserters, now absent from the army, without sending out military forces for that purpose. Should it not pass, or should it be found ineffectual, other means must be devised.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
H. W. HALLECK,