Sam Davis Museum, Hanging Site
"I would rather die a thousand deaths than betray a friend or be false to a duty." - Sam Davis
In the metaphorical pantheon of Dixie role models, Sam Davis is "The Boy Hero of the Confederacy." He wasn't a boy (he was 21 and battle-scarred) and although a combat veteran of several years of Civil War fighting, that's not where he became a hero. Injuries forced him into a less confrontational wartime role as a spy behind the Yankee lines -- and then he was caught, court-martialed, and hanged on a hill overlooking Pulaski on November 27, 1863.
Davis's heroics came during the brief seven days between his capture and execution. Although his captors offered him several opportunities to save his own skin in exchange for the names of his spy commander and the source of the top secret Union documents hidden in his shoe, he steadfastly refused to do so.
Sam Davis probably didn't love Pulaski, but the town posthumously loved him as a symbol of Southern valor and loyalty. An engraved marble block was placed on his hanging spot, and eventually replaced by the mausoleum-like Sam Davis Memorial Museum, which opened 87 years to the minute after his execution. The block, still on the same spot, is now inside the museum, as are the leg shackles Davis wore to the gallows. On display are many examples of Sam Davis souvenirs, collectibles, and tributes: plates, coffee mugs, postcards, Christmas ornaments, dozens of books, and a 45 rpm record, "Ballad of Sam Davis." On the walls are hung a painting of the execution (by John White) and a framed portrait of the Boy Hero (by Miss Teresa Patterson).
"He was a nice guy," said George Newman of the Giles County Historical Society, who showed us around. " I don't think he deserved what happened to him."
Sam's early death may have inspired future generations, but it proved pretty fruitless at the time. The secrets in his shoe wouldn't have helped the Confederates in Tennessee -- they were defeated in far-away Chattanooga while he sat in prison. And although the spy commander for whom Davis gave his life did survive the war, he wound up moving in with Davis's parents -- where he talked Sam's older brother into buying a Mississippi riverboat. It blew up in 1867, killing them both.
(The Boy Hero of the Confederacy is not the same as The Boy Martyr of the Confederacy, who was hanged in neighboring Arkansas.)