Sacrifice, Not Battle, Made Tennessean Sam Davis The Confederate ‘Boy Hero’

A crowd gathered around the statue of Sam Davis in Nashville at its dedication, roughly 50 years after his death. Image via Wikimedia Commons

A crowd gathered around the statue of Sam Davis in Nashville at its dedication, roughly 50 years after his death. Image via Wikimedia Commons

150 years ago, a young man from Smyrna died and became the “Boy Hero of the Confederacy.” Sam Davis is hardly a well-known figure anymore, but he once captured the attention of people all over the South. There’s a statue of him on the grounds of the state capitol. At one time, his name was even used to sell canned vegetables.

Sam Davis did not become a hero by killing enemies. He was a courier. A message boy. Davis was captured while carrying sensitive information about Union troop movements, and his captor, a Union officer, issued the kind of threat that would make most men talk. Tell the name of and location of the spy who gave him that message or die. Davis chose death.

So, on November 27, 1863, Sam Davis rode to the gallows in Pulaski sitting on his own coffin. Before the noose was put around his neck, he was given one last chance. His response: “I’d rather die a thousand deaths before I betray a friend.”

“Any person, if they put themselves in that situation, can understand that it’s a very difficult decision, whether you’re going to give up your life or betray your friend and your duty. He made that choice at a young age of 21 and stuck with it.”

Madelyne Rush runs the museum that’s been made of Sam Davis’ home in Smyrna. She says most visitors these days have never heard of the young man, but she says they find his courage inspiring, no matter what they think of the Confederacy or the Civil War.

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