and Articles of War," and were fully prepared to see them applied in their sternest rigor to every miscreant who should basely desert the flag. They understood that it was war with which the Government had to deal, and they expected and desired that an earnest and inflexible war policy would be at once inaugurated and carried out, and that deserters from the Army would be remorselessly arrested, tried by court-martial, and, if guilty, be forthwith shot to death with musketry.
This was unquestionably the almost universal attitude of the public mind when hostilities began, and the just expectations of the people should not have been disappointed. Arrest, trial, and execution should have been the short, sharp, and decisive fate of the first deserters. All the people would have said amen, and the crime of desertion, except in rare instances, would have ceased, just as it did in Mexico as soon as the deserters who fought us at Cherubusco were captured and hung. This is human nature, and it will ever remain so. Let the grim but indispensable code of war be enforced by a few examples of death by musketry or hemp, and the lesson will not need to be repeated, while mere paper penalties soon come to be disregarded and despised.
I trust that these remarks will not be considered in the light of an irrelevant homily upon an abstract theory, or as the utterance of mere truisms. I make them as being germane to the main purpose of department in calling for these final reports, which is to gather up the fruits of our past experience for future use. And I deliberately declare my conviction that the people were ready for the most rigid and, if necessary, the most sanguinary enforcement of the Rules and Articles of War upon all military criminals; and that by a swift visitation of death upon convicted deserters in those early and decisive months of the war the habits of desertion and of contempt for penalties threatened but never executed never could have prevailed to the frightful extent that they now do. The Government was far behind the people in this matter, and so continued until long and certain impunity had thrown such swarms of deserters and desperadoes into every State that it was then too late to avert the calamity. It was impossible to hang or shoot all of them, and so none were shot or hung, and thus the terrible evil went on with steadily increasing rapidity to the end.
I state these things so that if we hay start right-put deserters to death, enforce military law, strike hard blows at the outset, tone up the national mind at once to a realization that war is war, and to be sure that such a policy will be indorsed and sustained by the people.
There are other suggestions to be made in respect to deserters, but the one I have already advanced-the non-enforcement of the penalties provided by the military code for the crime of desertion, especially at the beginning-is, beyond all question, the grand fundamental cause of the unparalleled increase of that crime and of the inability of district provost-marshals, with their whole force of special agents and detectives, to rid the country of deserters. They came nearly as fast as, and sometimes faster than, they could be caught and sent back to the field. The supply seemed inexhaustible. The same deserters were arrested, sent to the rendezvous, forwarded to the front, put into the ranks with the pretense of trial or investigation, only to desert and ranks without the pretense of trial or investigation, only to desert and return to the State, to be again arrested and put through
53 R R-SERIES III, VOL V