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Bust of Sam Davis

[Source: Atlas Editions; Civil War Cards]

Captain Henry B. Shaw commanded a company of Confederate scouts and spies that gathered information about federal troop movements behind Union lines in Tennessee in the fall of 1863. Early in 1863, Sam Davis became a member of "Coleman's Scouts," a group co-founded by his older half-brother John. The Yankees were constantly on the lookout for these spies, whom they called Coleman's Scouts after the pseudonym, E.C. Coleman, that Shaw used. On November 20, 1863, they caught a 21 year old man in Confederate uniform with information about federal troop positions and a pass signed by "E. Coleman." Among the papers found concealed on Sam was information that could have only come from the desk of Union General Grenville Dodge. Convinced that one of his own officers was supplying information to the Confederates, Dodge decided to put pressure on Sam to identify his spy.

The federal soldiers especially wanted to know where "E. Coleman" was, but Davis would say nothing, even when General Grenville M. Dodge interrogated him and offered not to hang him as a spy if he would turn over the information. Davis again refused and insisted that he was not a spy but simply a courier. He was quickly and illegally tried, convicted, and hanged. Throughout the ordeal he composed himself bravely. He stoically refused to betray "Coleman," causing Dodge to exclaim as he saw the body dangle from the gallows: "He was too brave to die."

The whole story of this episode did not come out until much later. The Yankees did not know it, but they had "Coleman" in the same jail cell as Davis. Shaw, described by his captors as "an old , seedy, awkward-looking man in citizen's clothes," was known to the Yankees only by his real name and had been arrested separately from Davis. Shaw had once been Davis's teacher and they were friends, though they were careful to make sure their captors did not know. Davis's execution was clearly visible to his friend in the jail cell.

Davis's patriotism and willingness to die for his country was praised in print and stone throughout the South and caused him to be known as a Confederate Nathan Hale.

Long after the war, when Dodge was an old man, he remembered the bravery of the young man he had hanged, and contributed $5 to a monument being built in Nashville to honor Davis.

I want to thank Havala Moyer, Staff of Sam Davis Home for providing more in depth information for this page. You can learn more information on Sam Davis by visiting the "Sam Davis Home" website: