The Sam Davis Home in Smyrna, Tenn., is trying to survive financially as it approaches a sesquicentennial commemoration this month of the death of one of the South’s favorite martyrs.
Davis refused to name names after he was captured carrying stolen Union documents and dramatically chose a death by hanging over betraying his friends. Davis’s heroic act will be remembered at the pillared, two-story house and museum over a three-day weekend, Nov. 22 to 24.
The state-owned Davis home, run on an annual $200,000 budget, has long been supported by the town, but that contribution has been slashed by 60 percent over the past seven years. In response, the museum has reduced hours and recently decided to close for the month of January. The commemoration is taking place on the weekend before the actual anniversary date of Davis’s death on Nov. 27, 1863, and officials are hopeful it will bring in much-needed money and a new base of support. They are planning for a crowd of as many as 100,000.
Events include a bus trip to Nashville to see the Davis memorial on the capital grounds, a banquet with keynote speaker, a guided tour of the home, performance of a play about Davis, a Sam Davis Memorial Ball and a Sunday morning service at Davis’s grave. Of particular interest to Davis fans will be an exhibit of artifacts loaned to the museum for the event that include the shackles Davis wore as a prisoner as well as the overcoat and one of the boots he was wearing when captured.
Davis left school to join the 1st Tennessee Volunteer Infantry, and by 1863 had been recruited to work as a scout, disrupting Union communications and reporting on troop movements. He was working behind enemy lines when he was captured carrying stolen papers and a map of fortifications. Although he said he was a mere courier, Union officials decided he was a spy. He refused to say who had given him the documents, was tried by court martial and sentenced to be hanged. When given a last chance to save himself by identifying those who had helped him, he refused, reportedly saying “You may hang me a thousand times and I would not betray my friends.”
His story had a powerful appeal and overnight Davis became the “Boy Hero of the Confederacy,” although he was 21 when he died.