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.
When the commission met on November 24 two charges were brought against Davis. The first Charge was that he was a spy since he had come into the lines of the U.S. army for the purpose of gaining information and conveying it into Confederate lines. The second charge was that Davis was a carrier of mail and other information from within U.S. lines into Confederate territory. Davis pled “not guilty” to the first charge and “guilty” to the second.
The commission heard testimony from the men who had captured Davis, listened to a statement he made, and then adjourned until the following day. On November 25, 1863, the commission ruled by unanimous vote that Davis was guilty on both charges and sentenced his to be hanged. General Dodge received and approved the findings of the commission and set the execution for November 27th between the hours of 10:00 A.M. And 2:00 P.M.
Chaplain James Young spent the intervening day with Davis and accompanied him to the scaffold. On November 26 Davis wrote a letter to his mother and entrusted it to Chaplain Young. The letter read:
“Dear Mother; O how painful it is to write to you! I have got to die to-morrow—to be hanged
by the Federals . Mother, do not grieve for me. I must bid you good-bye for evermore. Mother I do not fear 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 anymore.
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, Tennessee. I will leave some things with the hotel keeper for you. Pulaski is in Giles County, Tennessee, south of Columbia.”
On the morning of his execution Sam Davis ate his breakfast, sang his favorite hymn, “On Jordan's Stormy Banks I Stand”, with Chaplain Young, and calmly mounted a wagon where he sat on his coffin as he was escorted to the gallows. As the grim party waited for the final details to be taken care of the man who had captured him rode up and offered Davis a final chance to save his life by revealing the name of his source of information. Davis replied, “If I had a thousand lives I would lose them all before I would betray the trust of a friend or the confidence of an informer.” Just minutes later Sam Davis was dead.
The death of Davis made a lasting impression on those who witnessed it and many of them wrote accounts of the event following the war. The Nineteenth Century was a time when death was faced more openly than is the case today. If one was to have “a good death” as the culture of the day defined it, certain things had to be done. The fact of approaching death had to be accepted calmly, the person must act in a courageous manner, and appropriate final words were to be spoken. The final words were thought to reveal the true character of the dying person. That is the reason the dying words of so many Nineteenth Century characters were carefully recorded and have been preserved for history. There was no possibility that Davis could have prepared his final words in advance since he did not know he would be offered a last chance at a reprieve. Therefore, the brave and dignified statement that he would die a thousand times rather than save himself by betraying another struck a resounding chord in the minds of those who heard them.