Every Inch a Hero.
BY J. B. KILLEBREW
One of the saddest and most thrilling events of the Civil War was the hanging of Sam Davis, in Pulaski, Tenn., November 27, 1863. He was a young man of excellent habits, and possessed a
courage that nothing could daunt. He was reared in the country, and up to the time of the breaking out of hostilities labored on the farm. He entered the army in 1861, in his seventeenth year. joining Colonel Ledbetter's company of the First Tennessee regiment, and in a short time his bravery, prudence, and zeal recommended him to his commanding officer as one fitted to perform the arduous and perilous duties of a scout. He was accordingly detached from his regiment, and made a member of Coleman's scouts.
Toward the close of October, 1863, it was considered highly important to the success of Bragg's movements that the strength of the Federal fortifications of Middle Tennessee should be accurately known, and young Davis was selected to procure this information.
He set out on his dangerous mission, and, after securing all the information that was expected or desired, he was arrested on his return, on the 20th of November, within the Federal lines, with the plans of the fortifications of Nashville and all other places in Middle Tennessee on his person. The accuracy of these plans and the minuteness of details showed at once that his informant was a man holding a high position among the Federal engineers, and when questioned concerning his sources of information, young Davis candidly admitted that the plans had been furnished by an officer high in command in the [Federal army , but resolutely refused to disclose his name. A free pardon was offered him and a safe return within the Confederate lines, on the condition that he would impart the sources of his information, but nothing could shake his resolution.
General Dodge, finding it impossible to move him in his stubborn determination after repeated conferences, summoned a military commission, of which Colonel Madison Miller, of the Eighteenth Missouri Infantry, was president, for the trial of Davis on the following charges and specifications :
Charge I: Being a spy. Specifications: In this, that he. Samuel Davis, of Coleman's scouts. In the service of the so-called Confederate States, did come within the lines of the United States forces in Middle Tennessee for the purpose of secretly gaining information concerning these forces, and conveying the same to the enemy, and was arrested within the said lines on or about November 20,1S63. This in Giles County, Tennessee.
Charge II: Being a carrier of mails, communications, and information from within the lines of the United States Army to persons In arms against the government. Specifications: In this, thai the said Samuel Davis, on or about November 20, 1863, was arrested In Giles County, Tennessee engaged in carrying malls and Information from within the lines of United States Screes to persona In arms against the United States Government.
To which charges and specifications the accused pleaded as follows:
To the specification in first charge, " Not guilty "
To the second charge, " Guilty."
After a patient investigation of several days, the following were the findings and sentence:
The court finds the accused as follows :
Of the specifications to the first charge, " Guilty."
Of the first charge, "Guilty."
Of the specifications to the second charge, " Guilty."
Of the second charge, " Guilty."
And the Commission does therefore sentence him, the said Samuel Davis, of Coleman's scouts, in the service of the so-called Confederate States, to be hung by the neck until he is dead, at such time and place as the commanding general may direct; two thirds of the members of the Commission concurring in the sentence.
Brigadier-General G. M. Dodge approved of the findings and sentence. The sentence was ordered to be carried into effect Friday, November 27, 1863, between the hours of 10 o'clock A. M. and 6 o'clock P. M., and Brigadier-General T. W. Sweeney, commanding Second Division, was ordered to cause the necessary arrangements to be made for carrying out the order in the proper manner.
The prisoner was notified of the findings and the sentence of the military commission by Captain Armstrong, the local provost marshal, and though manifesting some surprise al the severity of the punishment to be inflicted, he bore himself bravely, and showed not the quiver of a muscle. Later in the day Chaplain Young visited him, and found him resigned to his fate. After prayer by the chaplain he inquired concerning the news of the day, and upon being told that Bragg was defeated he expressed the deepest regret.
The scaffold for the execution of the prisoner was built upon an elevation on the eastern side of the town of Pulaski, near the college, and commanded an extensive view. The position could be seen from almost every part of the town. At precisely 10 o'clock on the morning of Friday, the 27th of November, 1863, the prisoner, with pinioned arms, was placed in a wagon and seated upon his coffin. In this condition he was conveyed to the scaffold. Davis stepped from the wagon, and, without any nervousness, seated himself on a bench at the foot of the scaffold, glancing occasionally at the coffin while the assistants were taking it from the wagon. He displayed no trepidation, and seemed to be the least interested of all those present. Quietly turning to Captain Armstrong, he asked with an unshaken voice
how long he had to live, and being told just fifteen minutes, he remarked in substance that the remainder of the battles for the
, Do you suppose, I would betray a friend? No; I would die a thousand times first! ,
freedom of his government and the liberties of his people would have to be fought without his assistance.
Captain Armstrong, turning to him, said, " I am sorry to be compelled to perform this painful duty." To which Davis replied, " Captain, I am innocent; I have only tried to serve my country and my people ; I die in the discharge of duty, and am prepared to die. ! do not think hard of you."
Captain Chickasaw, then approaching, asked the prisoner if it would not be better to save his life by disclosing the name of the officer who furnished the facts concerning the fortifications, etc., and then intimated that it was not yet too late. Upon hearing this the prisoner turned and, with a glowing indignation, said, "Do you suppose, sir, that I would betray a friend ? No; I would die a thousand times first. I will never betray the confidence reposed in me."
Committing then a few keepsakes to Mr. Lawrence, a Methodist minister, he mounted the scaffold with a serene countenance, in company with Chaplain Young, whom he requested to pray with him. After a prayer by the chaplain, the delicacy and appropriateness of which on this occasion may well be questioned, the prisoner stepped upon the trap, and paid the severe penalty of devotion to principle and duty. He died with the calmness of a philosopher, the sternness of a patriot, the serenity of a Christian, and the courage of a martyr.
Never did a deeper gloom spread over any community than did over that of Pulaski when Davis' tragic death was made known. The deed was openly and boldly stigmatized by the common soldiery as a needless assassination. No man ever awakened a deeper sympathy. His youth, his courage, his inflexible devotion to the principles of honor, his coolness under trying circumstances, all pleaded powerfully in his behalf. His sad fate is one of the touching themes of the county, and even now, after the lapse of thirty-four years, whenever his name is mentioned a tender sympathy causes the tear to rise unbidden to the eye. His memory is cherished by the people he loved so well; his name is embalmed in the hearts of his kindred and friends ; and they regard him as a martyr to what he conceived to be his duty—the preservation of the sacredness of confidence. His case furnishes a melancholy example of the atrocities still permitted under the usages of civilized warfare.
In reviewing, after the lapse of years, all the facts connected with this sad affair, it must be admitted that there were many mitigating circumstances in the case of this dauntless young soldier which pleaded powerfully for clemency on the part of the post commander. Davis was captured fifteen miles from Pulaski. He pretended no disguise, but wore at the time of his capture his arms and the Confederate uniform. It is true that the plans of the fortifications in Middle Tennessee were found on his person, biri no proof further than his own admission was adduced to show that he was in possession of them in any other capacity than as a courier or letter-carrier, and might, in the discharge of his duty as such, have unconsciously come within the lines, la addition, his youth, his manliness, his high courage and sense of honor, his unflinching constancy under the severest trial and the greatest temptations, and his heroic conduct to the last, were qualities that should have induced a noble-hearted commander to give the prisoner the benefit of a doubt.