Samuel Davis was born in 1842 near Smyrna, Tennessee. At age nineteen he left home to attend the Nashville Military Academy which was only about twelve miles from his home. When the Civil War began, he joined Company I, 1st Tennessee Infantry. He saw action near Cheat Mountain in Virginia under General Robert E. Lee.
His regiment was sent back to Tennessee. Davis was slightly wounded at the Battle of Shiloh and wounded more seriously at Perryville. After recovering he joined a cavalry company called Coleman’s Scouts. This small group of soldiers operated behind enemy lines around Nashville and provided information to Confederate General Braxton Bragg. These men always wore their military uniforms which distinguished them from spies. The Federal army considered these men such a nuisance that they refused to treat them as soldiers. Federal General Granville Dodge ordered his men to kill all the scouts they could find.
Sam Davis boyhood home
Sam went home to visit his family in 1863 and on the return trip to join his command was captured by Federal forces under Dodge. He wore his uniform which should have given him a prisoner of war status. Davis was also carrying mail directed to the Army of Tennessee. Dodge charged him with carrying mail to persons in arms against the Federal government and of being a spy. Sam pled guilty to the first charge, but denied being a spy as he was captured in uniform. Of course, he was found guilty on both counts and sentenced to be hanged.
Sam's boot cut open by Federal troops to find the papers he carried
He was offered a chance to save his life if he would give information about Coleman’s Scouts. He refused, saying, “I would rather die than betray a friend or be false to duty. If I had a thousand lives to live, I would give them all rather than betray a friend.”
Before his execution, he wrote to his mother: “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.” And to his father, he wrote: "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."
Sam Davis Memorial on his hanging site
He rode to the hanging site sitting atop his coffin in an army wagon. The Federal soldiers escorting Sam, begged him to cooperate so they wouldn’t have to see him hanged. Arriving atop the hill just outside of town, a noose was placed around his neck. It was his twenty-first birthday. The officer in command of the hanging had trouble performing the awful task because Sam looked so young. Sam told the man, “Officer, I did my duty. Now you do yours.”
The Boy Hero of the Confederacy rests today behind his boyhood home in Smyrna, Tennessee. In a future blog I will tell the sad story of his cousin, also a member of Coleman's Scouts.
Stone marking the exact spot where he was executed
Sam Davis grave
A close up of his tombstone