Sam Davis


"Boy Hero of the Confederacy" Sam Davis was born on his family's farm near Smyrna on October 6, 1842. At age 19 Davis left home to attend the Military Academy in Nashville.

When war fever swept the South, young Davis joined the "Rutherford Rifles," a local militia group mustered into active service as Company I, First Tennessee Infantry. Davis followed his regiment to Cheat Mountain, in what is now West Virginia, and fought under the command of Robert E. Lee.

In 1862, after his initial enlistment, Davis joined a company of cavalry known as "Coleman's Scouts," commanded by Henry B. Shaw. Numbering around 100, the Coleman Scouts operated around Middle Tennessee gathering information about Federal troop movements.

In the fall of 1863, Davis and five others were assigned to gather information about Federal forces in Tennessee. They spent much of their time learning the movements of Gen. Granville Dodge's division as it passed from northeast Mississippi through Middle Tennessee on its way to Chattanooga. Dodge ordered his men to wipe out the Scouts, if possible.

On November 19, 1863, scouting near Pulaski, Davis accepted a letter written to the Provost Marshal of the Army of Tennessee from Captain Shaw to be delivered to army headquarters. The next day, Federal soldiers captured Davis in Giles County, charged him with spying, and brought him before General Dodge. Davis pleaded not guilty, but the court-martial found him guilty and sentenced him to be hanged.

A week later, standing before the noose, he was offered his freedom if he would reveal the name of the person who gave him the papers. His answer, "I would rather die a thousand deaths than betray a friend or be false to duty," became a touchstone of the mythology of the "Lost Cause" in the postwar South. Monuments to his bravery were erected on the grounds of the State Capitol and on the square in Pulaski. In the 1920s, his family home in Smyrna became a museum. Davis is buried in the family cemetery.

  • Called the "Boy Hero of the Confederacy."
  • Hanged for refusing to give up the name of his Union contact.