Sam Davis

"A Martyr of War"

Sam Davis (18421863) is called the Boy Hero of the Confederacy. He was executed by the Union Army for espionage during the American Civil War.

Davis was born in Smyrna, Tennessee, and educated at the Western Military Institute, which he attended from 1860-1861. While there, he came under the influence of headmaster and future Confederate General Bushrod Johnson .

He was recruited by Confederate scout forces early in the Civil War. He signed up as a private in the First Tennessee Volunteer Infantry in 1861 and his regiment marched off to war first at Cheat Mountain, next in the Shenandoah Valley, then at Shiloh and Perryville.

Wounded slightly at Shiloh, Davis suffered a real wound at Perryville, but soon was in a very active saddle as courier for Coleman's Scouts.

He was captured near Minor Hill, Tennessee, on November 20, 1863, wearing a makeshift Confederate uniform and in possession of Union battle plans. He would not give the name of who gave him the items. For this reason, he was arrested as a spy, and sentenced to die by hanging unless he was willing to divulge the name of his contact. He is purported to have said, "I would rather die a thousand deaths than betray a friend." Another famous quote, reminiscent of Nathan Hale, was, "If I had a thousand lives to live, I would give them all rather than to betray a friend or the confidence of my informer.

Davis wrote a letter to his mother before the execution. "Dear mother. O how painful it is to write you! I have got to die to-morrow --- to be hanged by the Federals. Mother, do not grieve for me. I must bid you good-bye forevermore. Mother, I do not fear to die. Give my love to all." There was a postscript for his father, too. "Father, you can send after my remains if you want to do so. They will be at Pulaski, Tenn. I will leave some things with the hotel keeper for you."

He was hanged by Union forces in Pulaski, Tennessee, on November 27, 1863. As he was trundled along to the hanging site atop his own coffin, Union soldiers alongside the bumpy wagon road shouted out their entreaties for his cooperation, lest they have to watch the grim execution. Supposedly the officer in charge of the execution was discomforted by Davis' youth and calm demeanor and had trouble carrying out his orders. Davis is alleged to have said to him, "Officer, I did my duty. Now, you do yours."

Davis' story, and its obvious parallel to that of Nathan Hale during the American Revolution, became a rallying point for the Southern cause in the waning days of the Confederacy. His boyhood home is preserved in Smyrna as a museum, and the spot of his hanging in Pulaski is likewise marked by a monument and a small museum which, as of 2004, was open by appointment and request only. A statue of Sam Davis was erected on the grounds of the Tennessee state capitol at Nashville.

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