James Solomon's "narrative challenged my previous understanding of the Sam Davis story. And, I had to accept (reluctantly) that some of the 'facts' I have held so dear for so long may not be true."
"The way he laid out the story [is] extremely creative and clever."
Dan Watson, Pulaski Citizen
342 pages including 18 Chapters, Afterward, Photographs, extensive Endnotes and Index.
The author floats along the beautiful James River near his home in Buchanan, Virginia.
Who was Sam Davis?
Of the more than 600,000 enlisted men from both sides who were killed or died during the Civil War, Sam Davis was the most honored and celebrated of them all.
At the gallows, just moments before his execution as a spy, the 21-year old Confederate private was offered freedom if he would tell the whereabouts of his leader in Middle Tennessee. In response, Davis declared:
"You, Sir, may hang me a thousand times and I would not betray my friends."
The heroic display shocked and fascinated the young Yankees who witnessed the scene, and inspired Southerners. Years later, when old Civil War veterans from both sides had reached middle age and beyond, statues of Sam Davis were erected on the capital grounds in Nashville and on the courthouse square in Pulaski. Near Smyrna, Tennessee the family farm--today known as The Sam Davis Home--was purchased by the state in 1928 and has been preserved and showcased by the Sam Davis Memorial Association nearly ever since. His name became a trademark for consumer goods, including flour, notebook paper, and razor blades. Roads, bridges, a hotel, a movie theater, and a football stadium were named for him. The first Metal of Honor awarded by the SCV went to Sam Davis.
But mysteries surround the story.
Enlisted with Company I of the First Tennessee Infantry, Sam Davis had fought at Shiloh, Cheat Mountain, Stones River, Perryville, and in other battles before being assigned in mid-1863 to serve as a scout and courier in a squad led by one of General Braxton Bragg's intelligence operatives, a man named Henry Shaw. While Bragg awaited the coming battle at Chattanooga, Shaw operated behind enemy lines, gathering information about Federal forces in Middle Tennessee. Shaw signed his dispatches to Bragg with the alias "Capt. E. Coleman."
Sam Davis and the other soldiers who served under Shaw were ultimately called "Coleman's Scouts" and were largely used to transport, through enemy territory, the information Shaw had collected.
Davis was carrying one of Shaw's dispatches--signed "Capt. E. Coleman"--along with other mail and information, from Shaw's hideout near Campbellsville, Tennessee to Somerville, Alabama when he was captured on November 20, 1863 by Federal soldiers disguised as Rebels. Thinking they would let him go, Davis showed the imposters his official pass that had been signed by Capt. E. Coleman.
Sam Davis was taken to Pulaski, Tennessee where Brig. Gen. Grenville Dodge's forces were headquartered. The dispatch written by Henry Shaw and signed "Capt. E. Coleman" was discovered. The signature on the dispatch matched the signature on Davis's pass.
Refusing to reveal Coleman's identity, Sam Davis was accused by Gen. Dodge with being a spy.
Then, in a scene that epitomized and symbolized what the Civil War, at least in retrospect, meant to many, Sam Davis was hanged by the United States Army on November 27, 1863.
Years after the war, Dodge was told by another of Coleman's Scouts that the mysterious Capt. E. Coleman was, in reality, Henry Shaw and that Shaw had been captured by Dodge's forces the same week that Davis had been captured. Publicly, Dodge claimed he had known nothing about Henry Shaw's capture and importance, even though--as The Murder of Sam Davis reveals for the first time--Shaw's official authorization was, and always had been, hidden away in Dodge's personal files.
"I helped play the dead march at the murder of Sam Davis."
Lyman Forgraves, Federal soldier
"He looked me steadily in the eye..."
Levi Naron, who faced Sam Davis at the gallows
"My orders were given up to secure protection."
Henry Shaw, alias Capt. E. Coleman
"These people are proud, arrogant Rebels...and all they possess, belongs legitimately to the United States Government."
Grenville Dodge, writing on the day Sam Davis was hanged
"Do you mean a man who shoots a deserter then sends the proceedings to the president should be promoted?"
Abraham Lincoln, talking about a previous execution under Dodge
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