It is matter of great regret, but scarcely of surprise, that there should be so many desertions from the army. While the mischievous and obnoxious war policies decided upon by the administration, do not excuse this manner of evading the obligations the soldier has assumed, they serve very clearly to explain the reason for so many instances of the kind. The number who have thus fled from their duty is absolutely marvelous. A small army is engaged in each state hunting up and returning absconders from the army, and but few trains leave Springfield for the south, in which one car is not devoted to the accommodation of a number of these unfortunates, guarded by a squad of soldiers. It would be much better for all parties if the return was voluntary on the part of the recreant soldiers, as the government would be saved much expense, and the treatment of those who return of their own accord would be much milder than if force be used to compel them to fulfill their obligations.
We fear the penalties of desertion from the army of the United States are not clearly understood. Not only does this crime forfeit a man's life, if captured, and his commander do not extend his pardoning leniency to the culprit, but if the officers should be evaded until the war is over and the army disbanded, a deserter has forfeited all privileges of a citizen, just the same as if he had served in the penitentiary. He cannot vote; he cannot hold office; he is incapable of serving on a jury, or of being sworn as a witness in a court of justice. He becomes an outcast in society; a man living under the protection of the laws, but in a manuer without their pale. Surely, an honorable death is better than for a man, born with the proud title of an American citizen, to drag out a dishonored existence under such conditions. If a man deserts from the army at all, he should leave the country, and never return.
The same penalties apply to a drafted man who fails to report according to law, provided, of course, that the conscript act is decided to be a law. We are persuaded that if the nature and penalties of desertion were more widely understood, instances of the offense would be much more rare than at present.