Who was Sam Davis?
Born on October 6, 1842, in Rutherford County, Tennessee, Samuel Davis grew up in the comfortable environment of an upper middle class family. The oldest son of Charles Lewis and Jane Simmons Davis, he attended the local Smyrna schools until leaving home in 1860 to attend Western Military Academy in Nashville.
Early in 1863, Sam became a member of “Coleman’s.” By 1863, the Union Army occupied much of Middle Tennessee. Sam and his fellow scouts worked behind enemy lines disrupting communications and collecting information on the troop movements of the Union forces for the Confederate Army. Even though they wore Confederate uniforms and traveled with passes signed by Confederate General Braxton Bragg, the Union army considered them spies if captured.
Around November 20, 1863, as Sam traveled toward Chattanooga, he was captured by Federal troops near Nashville and Pulaski, as well as eleven newspapers and various personal items for General Bragg. Among the papers found concealed on Sam was information that could have only come from the desk of Union General Grenville Dodge. Convinced that one of his own officers was supplying information to the Confederate, Dodge decided to put pressure on Sam to identify his spy. He offered Sam his freedom in exchange for this information. Sam refused, so General Dodge ordered a court martial.
Sam remained in school only a short time before the War started in 1861. Like many other young men, Sam joined the army before Tennessee had officially seceded from the Union. He enlisted in Company I of the 1st Tennessee Infantry Regiment in April 1861. The 1st Tennessee participated in the Cheat Mountain campaign in western Virginia under Robert E. Lee in 1861. In 1862 they moved west and took part in the battles of Shiloh, Perryville, and Stones River.
The court charged Sam with being a courier of mails and of being a spy. Sam admitted to being a courier, but pled not guilty to the charge of spying. The military court convicted Samuel Davis on both charges, and sentenced him to hang. On the gallows, General dodge offered Sam one last chance to save his life by revealing the source of the papers he carried. Sam stated with his last words “I would die a thousand deaths before I would betray a friend,” and was hanged on November 27, 1863.
The sacrifice of Sam Davis quickly assumed the mystique of legend. The story of his heroic stand in the face of death was told and retold around countless Southern campfires and after the war was lost, around the impoverished dinner tables and blackened hearths of a war ravaged region.
The indelible picture of the young martyr also went north with the victors. Private John S. Randal of the 61st Illinois Infantry asserted to his dying day that in his entire time on the war, he never “witnessed such a pathetic and heroic scene,” noting unabashedly that he had sat at attention on his horse that day with “tears streaming down his face”.
Sam Davis OverCoat
Others were less eloquent but just as sincere. Private A. W. Bill remembered hearing many soldiers in the 61st later swear softly to themselves: “I wish that man could have gotten away.”
After the execution Private Van Pelt found that: “night day came and went, but [writing in 1897] I could not forget, nor have I to this day forgotten, that boy hero. His image has been before me these thirty-four years. God bless his beloved memory, his friends, and comrades!”
In 1909, the official monument to the memory of Sam Davis was dedicated on the grounds of the State Capitol in Nashville. A table placed there notes that the heroic bronzed figure was funded by private contributions from every state in the American union.
Those who seek the essence of this American hero travel to nearby Smyrna. There in the backyard of the family home, Charles Louis and Jane Simmons Davis committed the body of their boy to the ground. And there, for more than a century now, visitors have continued to come, to pay homage to …..
The Boy Hero of the Confederacy Sam Davis !