Just after Christmas, 1864, this second Sam Davis met Harry Brogden, who was set to go on an espionage mission to Canada. Davis wanted a change, so he arranged to take the mission himself. He dyed his hair, acquired a British passport, put on civilian clothes and headed north.
He carried papers to other agents in Canada, who were hatching all sorts of plots there. On his return trip, he went through Columbus by train. Near Newark, two other riders recognized him: Frank Beverstock of the 3rd West Virginia Cavalry and Archibald Parker of the 16th Illinois Infantry, Company M. They had been prisoners at Andersonville and had been exchanged recently.
They had the conductor send a telegraph ahead to the provost marshal in Newark and posted themselves at the two doors of the car to prevent his escape. When the train stopped, the marshal met Davis and escorted him to the Newark jail. Beverstock and Parker took great pleasure in this turn of events.
The marshal, however, was not skilled in searching Confederate spies and failed to find the hidden information behind the silk linings of his coat. Davis was put into a large cell containing other prisoners and a wood stove.
When the guards left, he ripped out the linings and papers and threw them into the fire. Regardless, his January 1865 trial in Cincinnati found him guilty of being a spy, and he was sent to Johnson's Island in Lake Erie, sentenced to hang on Feb. 17, 1865.
Davis watched the gallows being built on Feb. 15. He slept on the night of the 16th and watched the crowd grow the next morning. Then, as usually only happens in a movie, a commanding officer entered and told Davis his sentence had been commuted by none other than President Lincoln.
Members of Davis' family had pleaded with the president for his release, and the kind-hearted Lincoln agreed. Even so, Davis was removed to Fort Delaware in irons. He was beaten to the point of needing hospitalization.
He then spent months in prison at Fort Warren, Boston, after the end of the war. Finally, former Union prisoners from Andersonville protested Davis' treatment enough that he was released on Dec. 4, 1865.
This story appears in "Spies of the Confederacy" by John Bakeless and a chapter by Lewis H. Bond called "A Confederate Spy" in "Sketches of War History, 1861-1865, Vol. II," 1888. Dan Fleming writes for the Licking County Bicentennial Commission and is a reference librarian at the Licking County Library. To share a story of early Licking County, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org