In honor and memorial of the 150th Anniversary of the Capture, Trial and Execution of Sam Davis, Confederate Hero, an article by Dr. Michael Bradley. See samdavis150.com for more information regarding the 150th Anniversary memorial in Smyrna TN Nov 22-24.
Not surprisingly, Sam was interested in finding company for the trip since a small party of two or three would be safer that a single person and since the work of guarding against surprise in all directions could be shared. Riding down the Lamb's Ferry Road, near the community of Minor Hill, Sam was approached by two men wearing Confederate uniforms. One introduced himself as a recruiting officer, operating behind U.S. lines for the purpose or rounding up men who has just become eligible for the draft as well as men who had recovered from wounds, those overstaying furloughs, and deserters. This was a plausible story and the man sounded right, that is, his accent did not identify him as a Yankee. After a few minutes conversation both the men drew their weapons and ordered Sam to unbuckle his pistol belt. A signal brought out of hiding a patrol from the 7th Kansas Cavalry, the infamous “Jayhawker” regiment.
The captor of Sam Davis was Levi H. Naron, a South Carolina native who had moved to Mississippi several years prior to the war. Naron prospered as a plantation owner but, in 1861, he was a staunch Union man in his political views. This made him very unpopular with his neighbors and he was threatened with lynching if he did not keep quiet about his opinions. Naron became a refugee, hiding in the woods and was making his way north when he was apprehended and placed in jail in Corinth, Mississippi. He was released and ordered to return to his home but instead made for Pittsburg Landing, Tennessee, where the U.S. army under Ulysses Grant had established their camp. Naron met Sherman and was employed as a scout, using the cover name of Captain Chickasaw. Eventually, Naron became chief of scouts for Dodge's XVI Corps.
Davis was taken to Pulaski and imprisoned in the town jail. He had a good deal of company since other scouts, couriers, and suspicious individuals had been apprehended in the vicinity. Davis immediately recognized one of the prisoners, his commanding officer who was thought by the U.S. authorities to be an itinerant herb doctor. Davis felt it imperative to protect the identity of Shaw, or Coleman, as he was known.
A search of Davis' clothing, saddle bags, and saddle discovered papers of military importance, including eleven newspapers with articles about troop movements, a complete description of the units comprising Dodge's XVI corps, and a map of the fortifications of Nashville. In addition, Davis was carrying some personal items intended for General Bragg, including soap, blank notebooks, and a toothbrush and a number of letters for men in the Confederate army. According to the testimony of U.S. soldiers, given in evidence at the court martial which tried Davis, he was wearing a regular Confederate uniform and a U.S. army issue overcoat from which the military buttons had been removed and which had been dyed black. Davis was taken from jail for an interview with General Dodge and was confronted with the papers which had been found in his possession. General Dodge told Davis that he was convinced that Davis was a courier but that it was imperative that he give the source of the information he was carrying. Davis replied that he knew he was in a dangerous situation, that he understood his life was at risk, but that he could not give up the name of his colleagues.
Since Davis had made no effort to conceal his identity but was wearing a Confederate uniform there was an argument to be made that he could be treated as a prisoner of war but the rules of war in effect at the time also provided that any person found behind the lines of the U.S. army who was engaged in carrying information could be tried as a spy. Accordingly, on November 20, Dodge appointed a military commission to meet at Pulaski to try Davis. The members of the commission were Col. Madison Miller, 18th Missouri; Lt. Col. Thomas W. Gaines, 50th Missouri; Major Lathrop, 30th Ohio; Capt. George Elliott, 39th Iowa; Major N.B. Howard, 2nd Iowa acted as Judge Advocate. Since this was a military commission no officer was appointed to defend Davis.