Probably few people north of the Mason-Dixon line have heard of Sam Davis, but the courage he showed in the face of death durng the Civil War is the stuff that legends are made of. He lived his life with integrity, valor, and honor — and his death is just one of the accounts that impelled me to pen a Civil War novel that might serve as a tribute to the personal sacrifices made by Confederate soldiers.
Davis was born in Rutherford County, Tenn., but left home in 1860 to attend Western Military Academy in Nashville. He remained in school only a short time before the Civil War started in 1861, and enlisted in Co. I of the 1st Tennessee Infantry Regiment in April.
Early in 1863, Davis joined the “Coleman’s Scouts,” which was a group founded by his older half-brother John. Like Col. John Mosby in northen Virginia, he worked behind enemy lines disrupting communications.
Around November 20, 1863, Davis was captured by Federal troops near Minor Hill, Tenn. Davis carried papers that contained critical information on troop movements near Nashville and Pulaski. Some of the information was so detailed that it could have only come from the desk of Union Gen. Grenville Dodge. Convinced that one of his own officers was supplying information to the Confederates, Dodge put pressure on Davis to identify his spy, offering him his freedom in exchange. When Davis refused, General Dodge ordered a court martial.
In a twist of fate, the chief of the Confederate Army of Tennessee’s spy ring, Henry Shaw, who worked under the assumed name, E. Coleman, was captured at the same time as Davis. Davis had only to give the Federals his name to be a free man. He repeatedly refused.
The court charged Sam with being a spy and a courier of mails. Sam admitted to being a courier, but pled not guilty to the charge of spying. The military court convicted him on both charges, and sentenced him to hang.
When he was taken to the scaffold, Union scout “Chickasaw” Naron tried to prevail upon Davis to save his own life.
I addressed him thus; ‘Davis, you are not the man that should be hung, and if you would yet tell me who General Bragg’s chief of scouts was, so I might capture him, your life would yet be spared.’
“ He looked me steadily in the eye, and said ‘Do you suppose were I your friend that I would betray you?’ I told him I did not know, but life was sweet to all men. His reply to this, was, ‘Sir, if you think I am that kind of a man you have missed your mark. You may hang me a thousand times and I would not betray my friends.’
He was hanged on Nov. 27, 1863 — the day we celebrated Thanksgiving this year. He was 21 years old.