Testimony to His Noble Character ~~ Honors Paid to His Memory by Union Soldiers
At the January meeting of the Tennessee Historical Society, Mr. John C. Kennedy told the story of events in connection with Samuel Davis' death and burial at his home, which he states as follows:
By request, I write, after a lapse of thirty-three years, my recollection of the scenes and incidents attending the going for, the taking up, and conveying of the body of Samuel Davis to his parents near Smyrna, Tenn. Mr. and Mrs. Davis were not certain that it was their son who had been executed at Pulaski. They had made diligent efforts through various channels to trace the "Grape Vine" story that it was their Sam, but were not assured. At last the time was set to start on the search; Mrs. Davis gave me a piece of plaid linsey of that used for his jacket lining, and also described his boots, and told of other things that only a good and loving mother could have thought about. She was interrupted occasionally by suggestions from Mr. Davis.
The start was made with two mules hitched to a very heavy carryall. We had a meal sack containing a boiled ham and about a half bushel of corn pones, on which their son Oscar, a small boy who was to accompany me, and I were to live while gone.
We reached Nashville that evening too late to get a pass, but I procured a metallic case and box and had them put in the conveyance. The next morning I went to Gen. Rousseau, who declined to give me a pass and sent me to Gen. Grant's Adjutant General, who kindly and politely, but positively refused also, replying to all my pleadings for his mother's sake: "No Sir! No Sir! No Sir!"
I then returned to Gen. Rousseau, whom I had known in Kentucky in my boyhood days, and again asked for a pass, which, after some boyhood reminiscences not necessary to repeat, he supplied me for myself, the boy and team to Columbia, which was as far as his lines extended, telling me that was all be could do. I gladly accepted the pass, which was written on a piece of paper elegantly printed, and looked like a large bank note.
We entered the lines at Columbia, and drove straight through town, not stopping until we reached the picket on the other side, who, after looking over our pass, but could not read it, and seeing the coffin and small boy, permitted us to go on. The same thing occurred when we reached the picket at Pulaski, who permitted us to enter the town. When near the Square, I left Oscar to hold the mules while I went to the Provost Marshal to get a pass or find out what he would do with us. His office was in the court house. He asked how I got into Pulaski, and I handed him Gen. Rousseau's pass. He looked up and curtly remarked: "This is no account here. What do you want?" I told him I had come for the body of Sam Davis who had been hanged; that his parents wanted it at home.
His manner at once changed and, extending his hand, he said: "Tell them, for me, that he died the bravest of the brave, an honor to them and with the respect of every man in this command." He then asked what more he could do to help me. I requested return passes and a permit to take up the body, which he cheerfully gave. I also asked if he thought I would have any trouble or interference while I was at the graveyard; and he replied: "No sir. If you do, I'll give you a company -- yes, a regiment if necessary."
Taking advantage of his cordial words, I asked him how Sam was captured; as Mr. Davis had requested me to spare no pains to find out how and when he was taken. He said he did not know any of the particulars, but showed me two books in which records were kept in his office, and the only entry, after giving his name and description, was, as I remember, "Captured on the Lambs Ferry road by Capt. McKenzie's scouts.
Before leaving home I was referred for assistance, if necessary while in Pulaski, to a Mr. Richardson, who had been (if not then) the County Court Clerk. We found him willing and ready to aid all in his power. The grave digger agreed to take the body up for $20. The next morning he, together with his assistants, Mr. Richardson, Oscar, and I were busy at the grave when four or five Federal soldiers came up. One of them advanced to me, raising his cap politely, and, in a subdued tone of voice, proffered for himself and comrades to assist, if desired. I thanked him sincerely, for I did not know what their presence might mean, but declined their services. When the box was raised and the lid removed the cap of white was still over his head down to his neck, tied with long strings, which were wrapped around his neck two or three times. His boots were on, but the legs cut off at the ankles. I took from my pocket the piece of his jacket lining and saw that they were alike. When I removed the cap I found the face was black, but recognizable. We then transferred the body to the metallic case. During all the time the body was being examined and transferred the Federal soldiers stood in line with caps off, paying tribute in acts, if not in words. Upon our return from the cemetery, the Provost Marshal said the Chaplain, who was with Sam at the gallows, had some keepsakes for the mother and father. He gave me a little book, in which was a farewell message to his mother, and the buttons from his coat and vest.
The Chaplain told me that when at the scaffold, sitting on his coffin, he talked to him about meeting his God, that he showed no fear nor uneasiness. While in the conversation an officer came up and said: "Mr. Davis, I suppose you have not forgotten Gen. Dodge's offer." Sam, not raising his head, said: "What is that?" The officer replied: "Your horse and side arms, and an escort to the Confederate lines, if you will tell who gave you those papers." Sam then replied, still not raising his head: "I'll die a thousand deaths before I will tell."
The officer then said: "Mr. Davis, I have one more question to ask." Sam said: "What is it?" "I want to know if you are the man my scouts chased so close on Tuesday night that you crossed the road in front of them, beating their horses the face with your hat, but got away? Were you the man?"
The Chaplain says he threw his head back and looking at the officer said, in a quick, sharp tone of voice, " How do you know that?"
The Captain answered, "It is sufficient - I know it. Are you the man?"
Sam dropped his head in a moment and replied quietly, "I have nothing to tell you."
Sam's deliberation was clear even then, that if he confessed it was he, it would implicate some one who had been kind to him.
In a few more minutes, without sign of fear or weakness, was ended a life that was an honor to his family, country and to the human race.
After leaving Pulaski some miles, Oscar complained of being hungry, but the child was sickened by the odor from the unsealed casket, on which we were seated. He tried the bread and meat, but his stomach would not retain it. Before we reached home, however, he had lost his squeamishness -- hunger prevailed.
We stopped the first night near Lynnville. When we got to the river near Columbia, we found the officer in charge of troops at this point had ordered ferry boats stopped, and there was no way to cross except by fording, as the pontoon they were constructing would not be ready that morning.
I left the conveyance and mules with Oscar, cautioning him not to talk to any body while I would go and see the officer. He was standing on the river bank when I approached him and explained my errand.
He immediately turned to an orderly and said, "Go down and order the ferry boat to take that team and corpse over the river."
I thanked him and started back, when I saw the conveyance completely surrounded by soldiers. It was a very steep descent to the ferry, and I went to the head of the mules, taking hold of the bridles to hold them back while going down the hill, when the soldiers said, "Stranger, we know who this is. You get in the wagon; we'll see it goes down safe," and so they did. They practically carried the wagon aboard the boat, and would not leave it when we landed on the north side. The hill was steeper to go up than the one we came down. They ordered me to sit there and drive, and again they all got a hand or a shoulder somewhere and pushed us to the top of the hill, and when I thanked them they quietly raised their caps. Without further incident we reached Nashville, and drove to where the Adams Express Company's office now is, which was then where our present townsman, Mr. Cornelius, had his undertaking establishment, and turned the body over to him, with specific instructions about the shrouding. Mr. Davis had said to me, "If you think it is best that Jane and I should not see him, do as you think best about the matter.
On the evening of the seventh day after leaving home we drove in the big gate, some distance from the house. Mr. and Mrs. Davis were watching, and when they saw the casket, Mrs. Davis threw her arms above her bead and fell. All was sorrow in that home.
I had a boy catch my horse to go home to see my old mother and father, and change clothing, etc., but Mr. Davis prevailed upon me to stay and send for what I needed.
The next morning, while standing out in the yard, Mr. Davis came to me, hesitated, then catching his breath almost between each word, said, "John, don't you think it's hard a father can't see the face of his own child?" I replied that I thought it best that he and Mrs. Davis should remember him as they saw him last. He turned and left me. I drove the carryall that afternoon, with the body across the creek to the old family grave-yard where he was buried.
In a short time my mother died, and Mr. Davis sent over the same vehicle that had brought Sam's body home to take her body to the grave, and when the boy who drove it over started to get up to drive it to the grave, Mr. Davis stepped up and, shaking his head, said, "No -- no --nobody but I can drive that. Get down, and let me get up there," and he did. He was a worthy sire of a noble son.
Supplemental to Mr. Kennedy's reminiscence, Oscar Davis has written to the VETERAN his recollections of that event. They concur closely with those of Mr. Kennedy. He states that while Mr. Kennedy was gone to the hotel to get some things, some of the Federal soldiers drove up and asked if that was the body of the young man who was hanged not long since, and being told that it was, some of them shed tears, and said: "He ought not to have been hung, and we will have to suffer for it sooner or later."