I would like to see your source that states that Confederate captures were designated as deserters for propaganda purposes. The truth is that many of them were desertions. The fall of 1863 and winter 1863-1864 saw many Confederate desertions in the Army of Tennessee. This is especially true of soldiers that were at Vicksburg and soldiers from Tennessee, North Carolina, and Virginia.
Another thing to look at on "captures" and "deserters" is the date and location where they were came into Federal control. The Army of Tennessee was well away from Dalton about May 12, 1864 and was south of the Oostanaula River on May 16, 1864. I know that leaves were stopped in early April so soldiers would not have been authorized to be at home in Murray County or anywhere else.
Many deserters hid out in the mountains. Some were captured, some were not. The thousands that were not came out when the war was over and 3,000 to 5,000 were surrendered on May 12, 1865 at Kingston, Georgia. I postulate that a significant portion, if not majority, of these were deserters who had affiliated themselves with non-sanctioned organizations. I have seen estimates that the number was higher. They lived off the misery of others and it was a significant issue that caused such a humanitarian crisis that the Federals and Confederates cooperated to push supplies into the region to keep the woman and children from starving.
Although men may have deserted for what they saw as an altruistic reason, it still does not negate the fact that they "deserted" according to the regulations of the both the Federal and Confederate armies. Three thousand to 5,000 more men in the ranks at this point in the war would have been about a division equivalent. I am sure General Joseph E. Johnston would have appreciated the added combat power.
Gerald D. Hodge, Jr.
M.A. Military History - Civil War Concentration
Research - Preservation
Historian: 39th Georgia Volunteer Infantry Regiment