(1842–1863) is called the Boy Hero of the Confederacy
. He was born in Smyrna, Tennessee
. He served in various combat roles in the Confederate
army in 1861 through 1863 during the American Civil War
. As a Confederate courier, he was captured on November 20, 1863, and upon suspicion of espionage
was executed by the Union Army
after a captivity of only seven days.
Youth and Confederate service
Davis was 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 more severe wound at Perryville; after recovering from the latter casualty he took on very active service as a courier for Coleman's Scouts.
Capture and execution
He was captured near Minor Hill, Tennessee
, on November 20
, 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 was seen as ineligible for the privileges of a prisoner of war
. Instead, he was sentenced by a drumhead military court 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 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 discomfited 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