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[231]

Sam Davis—a Southern Hero. [from the Pulaski, Tenn., citizen, January 6, 1898.]

A Tribute to this Martyr by Ella Wheeler Wilcox, with a simple account of the sacrifice.


A touching parallel to the fate of Nathan Hale.


Nothing sweeter, it may be felt, might the poet have done, than in her lines given. It may be trusted, that, permanently re-united, our most promising refuge and Nation, will not fail in recognition, in time, of every instance of honorable devotion.

At a recent meeting of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, at Baltimore, a poem by Ella Wheeler Wilcox was read. The poem is eulogistic of a young Tennessee Confederate soldier who preferred death to dishonor.

Mrs. Wilcox wrote the poem for the Confederate Veteran, and in a note to the editor, she said:

‘I have never worked harder to produce what I desired. I began fully twenty poems before I wrote this one.’

Here it is:

Sam Davis.

When the Lord calls up earth's heroes
     To stand before his face,
Oh, many a name unknown to fame
     Shall ring from that high place!
And out of a grave in the Southland
     At the just God's call and beck,
Shall one man rise with fearless eyes
     And a rope around his neck.

For men have swung from gallows
     Whose souls were white as snow,
Not how they die nor where, but why
     Is what God's records show.
And on that mighty ledger
     Is writ Sam Davis' name—
For honor's sake he would not make
     A compromise with shame.

[232] The great world lay before him,
     For he was in his youth,
With love of life young hearts are rife.
     But better he loved truth.
He fought for his convictions,
     And when he stood at bay
He would not flinch nor stir one inch
     From honor's narrow way.

They offered life and freedom
     If he would speak the word;
In silent pride he gazed aside
     As one who had not heard.
They argued, pleaded, threatened—
     It was but wasted breath,
‘Let come what must, I keep my trust,’
     He said and laughed at death.

He would not sell his manhood
     To purchase priceless hope;
Where kings cast down a name and crown
     He dignified a rope.
Ah, grave! where was your triumph?
     And death! where was your sting?
He showed you how a man could bow
     To doom and stay a king.

And God, who loves the loyal
     Because they are like him,
I doubt not yet that soul shall set
     Among his cherubim.
Oh, Southland! fling your laurels:
     And add your wreath, Oh, North!
Let glory claim the hero's name,
     And tell the world his worth.


The bronze head of Sam Davis was one of the most admired works of art in the Parthenon of the Tennessee Centennial.

This bust, executed by Julian Zolling, represents a nobly formed head; the boyish face conveys an impression of courage, strength and sweetness. Many visitors were attracted to this bit of bronze; singularly enough, many of them had never before heard of Sam Davis and his tragic death. Here is the story:

In 1863 General Bragg sent a number of picked men, as scouts, among them Sam Davis, into Middle Tennessee in order to gain information concerning the Federal army; he wished to know if the Union army was re-enforcing Chattanooga. The men were to go [233] South and send their reports by courier line to General Bragg at Missionary Ridge. The expedition was attended with much danger.

The scouts had seen the 16th Army Corps, commanded by General Dodge, move from Corinth to Pulaski, and on Friday, November 19, they started to return to their own camp, each man for himself, and bearing his own information.

Late that afternoon they were captured by the 7th Kansas Cavalry, known as the ‘Kansas Jayhawkers,’ taken to Pulaski and put in prison.

Important papers were found upon the person of Sam Davis. In his saddle-bags the plans and fortifications as well as an exact report of the Federal Army in Tennessee were found.

A letter intended for General Bragg was also found.

General Dodge sent for Davis and told him that he had a serious charge to make; that he was a spy and did not seem to realize the danger he was in. The General also remarked kindly that Davis was a young man, and that it would be well for him to tell from what source his accurate information concerning the Federal army was obtained. Davis had made no reply until this time. Then he said:

General Dodge, I know the danger of my situation, and am willing to take the consequences.’

He was ready to die rather than betray his friends.

General Dodge remonstrated with the young prisoner, and insisted that he tell the name of his informer. Davis answered steadfastly:

‘I will not tell. You are doing your duty as a soldier, and I am doing mine. If I have to die, I do so feeling that I am doing my duty to God and to my country.’

Pleading was useless. He thanked General Dodge for his kind interest, but remained firm. Davis was condemned to death. The night before his execution he wrote a pathetically brave letter to his mother and father.

The morning of the execution arrived. Davis was put into a wagon and taken to the Courthouse Square. The condemned man, seeing some of his friends at a window, bowed a last farewell.

Arriving at the gallows Davis asked Captain Armstrong how long he had to live. The reply was: ‘Fifteen minutes.’ Davis then asked for the news. Captain Armstrong told him of the Confederate defeat at Missionary Ridge. He expressed much regret, and said:

‘The boys will have to fight without me.’ [234]

General Dodge still had hope that Davis would reveal the name of the traitor in the Federal camp, and thus save his own life. One of the officers of General Dodge rapidly approached the scaffold, and asked the youth if it would not be better for him to speak the name of the person from whom he had received the document found upon him, adding:

‘It is not too late yet!’

Davis replied: ‘If I had a thousand lives, I would lose them all before I would betray my friends, or the confidence of my informer.’

He then requested the officer to thank General Dodge for his efforts to save him, but to repeat that he could not accept the terms. Turning to the chaplain he asked that a few keepsakes be kept for his mother. He then said that he was ready, ascended the scaffold, and stepped upon the trap.

Another noble young life was sacrificed for love of the South.

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