Monday, November 11, 2019

Veteran's Day, 2019.  Today, I'm remembering Zack A. Crumpton, my grandfather on my mother's side of the family.  One hundred years ago (July, 1919), he came home from France.  He landed in New York blind in one eye and suffering from influenza.  After recovering from the flu, Grandfather Crumpton came back to Fellowship, Florida, the little farming community where he was born and raised.  My grandfather never received a penny from the government for the life-altering injury he suffered during WWI.  He never asked for any money.  He considered it his duty to serve his country.

I would encourage everyone who reads this to click into the following link and check out "The Heroes of an Ancient War," written by my brother Zack.  It is a moving tribute to Grandfather Crumpton and others who fought to keep our country free.

Monday, November 4, 2019

The Story of Sam Davis

"I would die a thousand deaths..."
Written by Robert A. Waters

The following true, much-documented tale portrays the humanity of Civil War soldiers on both sides.  The storyline is somewhat similar to the famous story by Ambrose Bierce entitled "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge," which Kurt Vonnegut called the "greatest American short story." 

On November 27, 1863, an exhausted man dozed beneath the wintry skeleton of a live oak tree.  A thick tangle of brush surrounded him, making this spot a natural hiding place.  Below him, the icy Tennessee River gurgled and cracked.  The man intended to cross that river, but decided to rest for a while.  With a cold rain battering him and his worn-out horse, the man never heard the small group of Kansas Jayhawkers (7th Kansas Cavalry) circling his make-shift camp.

Sam Davis, a twenty-year-old scout, or courier, for the Confederate army, awoke to dozens of carbines trained on him.  The Union troops unceremoniously arrested Davis.

In her research paper, "The Coleman Scouts," Mabel Baxter Pittard wrote that Civil War-era "spies and scouts [were] sent into enemy territory to gather news concerning movements of troops, to secure newspapers, and to obtain any vital information about enemy resources."  Confederate scouts were used in Tennessee to send intelligence about USA General Ulysses Grant's military activities to CSA General Braxton Bragg, currently headquartered in Decatur, Alabama.

Sam Davis had been caught red-handed.

Davis grew up in Rutherford County, Tennessee and attended West Military Institute in Nashville.  Only 18 when the Union army invaded his Southern homeland, Davis joined the First Tennessee Volunteer Infantry.  "In the ensuing year," newspaperman James Cameron Phifer wrote in American Heritage magazine, "[Davis] served under Robert E. Lee, under Stonewall Jackson in the Shenandoah valley, under Albert Sidney Johnston and P.G.T. Beauregard in Mississippi.  In August of 1862, Sam, now battle-hardened and battle-scarred--he had been wounded at Shiloh--marched over the mountains into Kentucky, as General Braxton Bragg's army of Tennessee launched the invasion that was to end in disastrous defeat at Perryville on October 8."  At Perryville, Sam was wounded again, this time his injuries much more severe.

While recovering, the call went out from Coleman's Scouts for volunteers, led by Captain Henry B. Shaw, AKA "Dr. E. Coleman."  Davis applied and was accepted.

The Jayhawkers, sloshing through the rain, hurried Davis to Union General Grenville M. Dodge's headquarters in Pulaski, Tennessee.  There, searchers located a group of incriminating documents sewn into one of his boots.  Davis's saddle was then examined and soldiers located additional papers, including chillingly accurate maps of Grant's encampment.

To Dodge, Sam was small-fry.  He wanted to learn the identity of the elusive "Captain Coleman," not Davis.  Dodge met with his captive and informed him that if he (Davis) would reveal the name of the much-hated leader of the spy ring, he would be set free.  Davis adamantly refused.  Dodge, who spent hours interrogating Davis and was said to have developed a liking for the young man, begged him to spare his own life and give up his superior.  Davis replied, "The man who gave me the information is more important to the Confederacy than I."

Davis was then court-martialed and sentenced to death.

Phifer wrote that "Chaplain James Young of the 81st Ohio Infantry, the unit detailed to carry out the execution, spent much time with the doomed youngster."  They spoke of their homes and their experiences in the war and prayed together.  Young allowed the prisoner to write a note home.  Sam wrote: "Mother, do not grieve for me, I must bid you good-bye forevermore.  Mother--I do not hate to die."

The next morning dawned cold, with a heavy rain soaking the hanging ground.  As Davis sat on his coffin in a wagon awaiting execution, he was again reminded that he would be given a horse, a gun, and transferred safely by Union soldiers to Confederate lines in Alabama if he would identify the chief spy.  Davis responded, "I will not tell.  I would die a thousand deaths before I would betray a friend."

With that, he was led to the gallows.  Union troops later said that many soldiers turned their heads away so they wouldn't have to witness the well-liked prisoner's death.  After a final prayer by the chaplain, the trap was sprung and the rope snapped taut.  It took three minutes for Davis to die.

Captain W. F. Armstrong, the provost marshal who had also spent hours attempting to get Davis to reveal his secrets, wrote to Sam's parents.  "Tell them for me," the note read, "that he died the bravest of the brave, an honor to them, and with the respect of every man in this command."

After the war, General Dodge wrote about Davis: "I pleaded with him with all the power I possessed to give me some chance to save his life.  I discovered that he was a most admirable young fellow, with highest character and strictest integrity.  He replied, 'I know, General, I will have to die, but I cannot tell you where I got the information and there is no power on earth that can make me tell.  You are doing your duty as a soldier, and if I have to die, I shall be doing my duty to God and my country.'"

A statue of Sam Davis now sits outside his former home in Smyrna, Tennessee.  As you would expect in this era, its future is precarious.  Here's hoping it lasts another hundred years, a tribute to courage and honor.