however, that many have returned, since, with the close of the war, danger of arrest and punishment passed away.
Special causes operating to produce desertion in the U. S. Army during the late rebellion.
In the late war of rebellion there seem to have been some special causes operating to produce desertion, which it is well to mention in detail:
First. For the first two years of the war the Government had to depend on the services, voluntarily presented, of men who, with abundant patriotism, had no knowledge of military law and obligation and no conception of discipline; men who had always freely acted according to their own ideas and wishes, restrained by no other legal requirements than those of the civil law governing a free people. It is not strange that among such men many should have absented themselves, in the beginning of the war, from ignorance as to their duties and obligations and become technically deserters, but without really deserting the flag or abandoning the cause. It is a well-ascertained fact that numbers who deserted the commands to which they belonged in the early part of the war subsequently joined other branches of the service without the inducements of bounty and proved to be good and faithful soldiers. The mode of organizing troops was fruitful of evil in this regard. The men elected their officers generally without knowledge as to the requirements of the places to be filled or the fitness of the persons chosen. The majority ruled in the election, and issues not connected with the military service often governed it. a dissatisfied and often highly intelligent minority was frequently the result, and desertion, both before and after sufficient trial to prove the fitness of the officers, occurred, and was regarded by the parties resorting to it a more as a refusal on their part to ratify a contract than as the commission of a grave crime. The remedy for this was only to be found in abandoning the system of electing officers, and adopting that of having them appointed by those competent to judge of their qualifications for the duty required.
Second. The large bounties paid to recruits both encouraged and facilitated desertion, as explained in the character on bounties.
Third. The want of adequate means for the arrest of deserters in the early part of the war, and the consequent impunity with which they returned to and remained at their homes, and the failure to administer prompt and adequate punishment for the worst phases of the crime, when occasion offered, contributed more, perhaps, than anything else to the evil of desertion.
The evils of desertion do not need enumeration. There was one, however, which may be mentioned as particularly observable during the war, viz, the discouragement to volunteering that resulted from the exaggerations indulged in by deserters as to the harsh treatment they had met with, and the false stories they spread abroad of the cruelty and unnecessary hardships to which the men were subjectedficed, battles lost, and war prolonged, in consequence of the depletion of the ranks of the armies by desertion, were the natural fruits of the want of rigor in dealing with this evil in the early stages of the war. Undue mercy to deserters was in reality harsh cruelty to those who remained true to their flag.