Sam Davis Banner


Bust of Sam Davis

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. 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 19, 1863, they caught a 21 year old man in Confederate uniform with information about federal troop positions and a pass signed by "E. Coleman." His name was Sam Davis and he was taken to Pulaski, where he was thrown in jail and subjected to intense interrogation.

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 $10 to a monument being built in Nashville to honor Davis.