Harber: Sam Davis remains most admired for his courage

Susan Harber, Daily News Journal, July 17, 2015

In the historical annals of Smyrna, there is no other name more prevalent for all ages than Sam Davis.

Sam Davis (photo: Submitted)

Sam Davis (photo: Submitted)

He is the most admired and revered individual in the past 150 years and remains at the forefront of our local antiquity to this day.

His shortened existence never allowed him to experience a happy life with his parents and siblings or a future in business or the chance to have his own wife and children.

What creates a stirring story is his reluctance to promote himself with praise and honor. He died willingly to protect his country and to defend and fortify his virtue.

He never envisioned he would be mourned and martyred or that his name would ever be mentioned again outside of his own family.

On a chilled November night in 1863, Sam Davis returned to Smyrna for the last time to visit his family. He tapped on the dining room window to alert his mother and slipped quietly into the home.

His father repaired his boots, and his mother bestowed to him a hand-dyed Confederate coat to keep him warm. With goodbyes exchanged, he faded into the dark evening with peril awaiting his every move. Yet, fear was a stranger to Sam Davis to the last moment of his life.

Sam Davis, our Smyrna hero, had a torturing exit from this earth. He was arrested by Kansas Jayhawkers on Lamb’s Ferry Road in Giles County near Minor Hill on Nov.r 20, 1863, charged as a spy and executed seven days later.

He was a Coleman Scout under Captain Henry B. Shaw, his former school teacher. Despite the circumstances, Sam’s loyalty to his comrade was extraordinary.

Shaw was imprisoned in Pulaski at the time of Sam’s capture. No revelations of Sam’s relationship with Shaw were revealed, as silence was paramount.

Within Sam’s boot was a captain’s letter to Bragg with details of Federal troop maneuvers. Moreover, sewn into his saddle was a map of great accuracy of Nashville fortifications. Further, his saddlebag contained three wash balls of soap and three toothbrushes.

After being harassed by Union officers to disclose his sources, Sam steadfastly refused. Union Gen. Grenville Dodge of the 16th Corps offered him freedom to reveal information; yet Sam was unmoving, and his responses remained chiseled in stone.

Union Chief of Scouts Levi Naron was assigned to interrogate Sam and demand answers but gained no ground. As a result, Sam was tried in a court martial to determine his fate.

Sam wrote a letter to his mother before the execution. “Dear Mother. O how painful it is to write you! I have got to die tomorrow and to be hanged by the Federals. Mother, do not grieve for me. I must bid you goodbye 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, Tennessee. I will leave some things with the hotel keeper for you.” Sam’s unwavering acceptance of his impending demise was so unusual for a young man born only two decades prior. He had absolutely no hesitation to stand for right.

On Nov. 26, a song echoed in the darkness on the eve of his death entitled “I am Bound for the Promised Land.”

On the following day, drums rumbled at 10 am; and a wagon pulled into Pulaski’s jail with a wooden coffin in tow. Sam courageously sat on his casket and traveled a bumpy road to the gallows on the edge of town.

With a calm demeanor, Sam inquired “how long?” The officer replied the execution was 15 minutes away.

Sam was allowed to sit under a tree and await his fate. Yet, a Union captain arrived and rushed toward him with great vigor saying “Speak, boy! Speak and go free. Who gave you documents?” Sam’s infamous reply was “If I had a thousand lives, I would lose them all here before I would betray my friend or the confidence of my informer.”

Sam then stated “Officer, I did my duty. Now, you do yours.” His one regret was for others to think he died a spy.

Sam wrapped his belongings and gave them to the Ohio chaplain James Young, who had befriended him. This included the coat Sam’s mother had stitched for him. A few minutes later, Sam, age 21, turned to the chaplain and said, “I am ready.”

He ascended the scaffold, and a hangman’s white mask was placed over his head. From there, Sam stepped into eternity and into our hearts.

Union soldier John Randal, who was integral in the capture of Sam, watched in tears at his execution. Sam had changed the soul and minds of both Confederate and Union soldiers in a deep, long-lasting manner.

When news filtered to the Davis family of their son’s death, friend John Kennedy and Oscar Davis, Sam’s brother, traveled to Pulaski to gather his remains. He encountered the provost marshal, who said “Tell his family he died the ‘bravest of the brave.’ Every man in this command had respect for him.”

Kennedy loaded Sam’s body and his belongings into a heavy spring-wagon. The chaplain returned a little book, a brass vest and coat buttons to the family.

Upon return to Smyrna by Christmas Day, Jane Davis fainted at the sight of her son’s coffin, while Charles Davis was bent forward in shock and horror. Their lives would forever be shattered. Little did they know that his legacy of integrity would be engrained for generations to come.

In 1909, a monument of Sam Davis was erected on the grounds of our state Capitol. Sam is also one of four Tennesseans to receive the Confederate Medal of Honor. He remains a Smyrna icon, whom we affiliate with utmost honor, trust and honesty.

The Davis’ family hid their family photographs in the hay of their barn, fearing their home would be burned during the war.

Yet, the barn itself was torched in a Union raid, and cherished photographs of Sam were lost.

Nonetheless, Sam is pictured in our mindset daily and is universally beloved for his courage and unyielding valor.

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