This young man, of exemplary habits, and of a courage that nothing could daunt, was the son of C. L. and Jane Davis, born on Stewart's Creek, one and a half mile from Smyrna, and wait at the time of his execution about nineteen years of age. He entered the army in 1861, joining Dr. Ledbetter's company of the First Tennessee Regiment; and it was but a short time before his bravery, prudence, zeal, and undoubted patriotism recommended him to his commanding officer as one eminently suited to perform the arduous and dangerous duties of a scout.
He was accordingly detached front 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 in Middle Tennessee should be accurately known, and to procure this information young Davis was selected. He set out on this dangerous mission and after accomplishing all that was expected or desired, he was arrested on his return within the Federal lines, on the 20th of November, with a plan of the fortifications of Nashville, Pulaski, and of all places of importance in Middle Tennessee, on his person. The accuracy of these plans and the minuteness of detail showed at once that his informant was a man holding a high position among the Federal engineers; and when questioned about his sources of information. Davis candidly admitted that the plans had been furnished by an officer high in command, but resolutely refused to give his name, though a free pardon was offered, and a safe return within the Confederate lines.
General Dodge, the post commander, immediately convened a Military Commission for the trial of Davis on the following charges and specifications:
"Charge first. Being a spy.
"Specification: 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, 1863. This in Giles county, Tennessee.
"Charge second. Being a carrier of mails, communications and information from within the lines of the United States army to persons in arms against the United States Government.
"Specification: In this, that the said Samuel Davis, on or about November 20, 1863, was arrested in Giles county, Tennessee, engaged In carrying mails and information from within the lines of the United States forces to persons in arms against the United States Government!"
To which charges and specifications the accused pleaded as follows:
To the specification of first charge, " Not guilty;" to the first charge, "Not guilty."
To the specification of second charge, " 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 specification to first charge, 'Guilty;' of the first charge, 'Guilty.' Of the specification of second charge, ‘Guilty;’ of the second charge, 'Guilty.' And the Commissioner does therefore sentence him, the said Samuel Davis, of Coleman's Scouts, in the service of the so-called Confederate States, to he hanged 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.
"Finding and sentence of the Commission approved. The sentence will be carried into effect on Friday, November 27th, 1863, between the hours of 10 o'clock a.m. and 6 o'clock p.m. Brig-gen. T. W. Sweeney, commanding Second Division, will cause the necessary arrangements to be made to carry out this order in the proper manner.
"The Military Commission, of which Col. Madison Miller, Eighteenth Missouri Volunteer Infantry, is President, is hereby dissolved.
"By order of Brigadier-general G. M. Dodge:
"J. W. Barnes, Lieut. and A. A. G."
Captain Armstrong, the local Provost Marshal informed the prisoner of the finding and sentence of the Military Commission, and, though manifesting some surprise at the severity of the punishment to be indicted, he bore himself, heroically, and showed not the quiver of a muscle. He wrote the following affecting letter to his mother and father:
"Pulaski, Giles County, Tenn., Nov. 26, 1863.
"Dear Mother: O how painful it is to write to you! I have got to die tomorrow morning - to he hanged by the Federals. Mother, do not grieve for me. I must bid you good-by for ever more. Mother, I do not hate to die. Give my love to all. Your Dear Son.
"Mother: Tell the children all to be good. I wish I could see all of you once more, but I never will any more.
"Mother and Father: Do not forget me. Think of me when I am dead; but do not grieve for me; it will not do any good.
"Father: You can send after my remains, if you want to do so. They will be at Pulaski, Tenn. I will leave some things, too, with the hotelkeeper for you.
"Pulaski is in Giles county, Tennessee, south of Columbia."
Copied from his little book:
"Met Coleman in the road - one package tied up, letter sealed, twelve miles from Mount Pleasant - half an hour in the road; staid all night with him six months before.
"Had sick leave from the army three weeks; staid near Columbia awhile - at Gillespie's house, five miles out.
"Smyrna, twenty miles from Nashville and Stevenson railroad.
"Brother and sister members of the Methodist Church.
"Would not care about the mode of death being changed to shooting.
"Hope something may turn up some day to let the officers that convicted me know that I am innocent,
"Mrs. C. L. Davis, Smyrna Post Office, Rutherford county, Tenn."
Later in the day Chaplain Young visited him, and found him resigned to his fate. After prayer by the Chaplain, he inquired in relation to the news of the day, and 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 east side of the town, near the college, and immediately in front of the house now occupied by James McCallum, Esq., a position that can be seen from almost every part of the town. At precisely ten o'clock on the morning of Friday, the 27th of November 1813, the arms of the prisoner being pinioned, he was placed on a wagon, seated on his coffin (a. refinement of cruelty), and conveyed to the scaffold. Davis stepped from the wagon and seated himself on a bench at the foot of the scaffold glancing occasionally at the coffin as it was being taken from the wagon. He displayed no trepidation, but calmly and quietly turning to Capt. Armstrong, asked how long he had to live, and on being told just fifteen minutes, said in substance that the rest of the battles would have to he fought without him.
Capt. Armstrong turning to him said: "I am sorry to be compelled to perform this painful duty."
To which Davis replied with a smile: "It does not hurt me, Captain; I am innocent, though I am prepared to die, and do not think hard of you."
Captain Chickasaw then approaching, asked the prisoner if it would not have been better to have saved his life by disclosing the name of the officer who furnished the facts in relation to the fortifications, etc., and intimated that it was not yet too late.
The prisoner answered with much indignation: "Do you suppose that I would betray a friend? No, sir! I would die a thousand times first. I will not betray the confidence of my informant!"
Then, committing 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, the delicacy and appropriateness of which may be well questioned under the circumstances, the prisoner stepped upon the trap and paid the severe penalty of devotion to right and principle. He died with the calmness of a philosopher, the sternness of a patriot, and the serene courage of a martyr.
Never did a deeper gloom spread over any community than spread over that of Pulaski, when Davis' tragic fate was made known. The deed was openly and boldly stigmatised by the common soldiers as a needless assassination; men and women, in every part of the town, Indulged In unavailing moans, and even the little children, with terror depicted on their countenances, ran about the streets weeping with uncontrollable grief. No man over awakened a deeper sympathy. His sad fate is one of the touching themes of the county; and whenever his name is mentioned the tear rises unbidden to the eye of the oldest as well no the youngest. His memory is embalmed among the people as a self-immolated martyr to what he conceived a pure and holy duty - the preservation of the sacredness of confidence. This case furnishes a melancholy example of the atrocities still permitted under the usages or civilised warfare.
After the lapse of over twenty years, in reviewing, all the facts connected with this end affair, it must be admitted that there were many mitigating circumstances in the case of this dauntless young soldier, which pleaded powerfully for clemency from the post commander. He was captured fifteen miles front Pulaski; he pretended to no disguise but had on at the time of his capture his arms and the Confederate uniform. It is true that plans of the fortifications in Middle Tennessee were found upon his person; but 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 involuntarily got within the lines. In addition to all these, his youth, his intelligence, his unflinching constancy under the severest trials and the greatest temptations, and his heroic conduct to the last, certainly should have Induced a noble-hearted commander to give the prisoner the benefit of any doubt.
NOTE: - The foregoing article originally appeared in The Annals of the Army of Tennessee etc., edited by Dr. Edwin L. Drake, Lieutenant-colonel C.S.A., Vol.I pages 294-298. 1878.