In 1861, Sam Davis, 19, had completed only one year at the Western Military Institute, a day school in Nashville, Tennessee, that offered high school and college courses; but he decided to enlist and fight the northern aggression.
He served in Company One of the First Tennessee under Generals Robert E. Lee, "Stonewall" Jackson, Albert Sidney Johnston at the Battle of Shiloh, and Braxton Bragg at the Battle of Perryville, Kentucky, where he was wounded. After recovery, he joined Coleman's Scouts, General Bragg's reconnaissance unit, and became a courier.
In 1863, Tennessee had become a battleground with many Union troops in the area. So, as a member of Coleman's Scouts, he operated behind enemy lines. On 20 November 1863 near Minor Hill, Tennessee, he was captured carrying personal letters for Confederate Civil War soldiers, gifts for General Bragg, several northern newspapers, and information on Union Army troop size and locations. Such detail information could have only come from the desk of Union General Grenville Dodge, who was nearby in the Pulaski, Tennessee, area.
Life of a Spy by Thomas Nast, Harper's Weekly, October 23, 1863
General Dodge believed someone in his own camp was the traitor, so Dodge offered to set Davis free if he divulged the name of person who had given him Union battle dispositions. However, Davis refused and became legendary by his staunch silence! He was then charged with being a spy by Dodge who ordered a court martial.
Although admired by military personnel for his resolve, he was hanged as a spy seven days later. It was his birthday; he was 21.
The Davis family home and grounds are today open for visitation. The state of Tennessee purchased the property in 1927, and many original elements have been retained.
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