Thursday, April 4, 2013

The Courageous Story Of Three Cousins

Dedication Of the Sam Davis Statue On Capital Hill / Nashville

  These are the tragic stories of three cousins. Sam Davis, Dewitt Smith Jobe, and Thomas Benton Smith. They were all three born within a few years of each other in an area between modern day Sam Ridley Boulevard and Almaville Rd. in Smyrna. Courage was definitely in the genes of this family in abundance. Sam Davis, the most famous of the three, especially to Rutherford County residents, was born in 1842 and died on 19-November-1863. He attended the Western Military Institute, which was in a building that still exists today and is an office building used by Nashville Metropolitan Government on 2nd Ave. South. The building was the old Children's Museum that I routinely visited as a child in the 1950's and was the forerunner of the Cumberland Science Museum. The Western Military Institute is now Montgomery Bell Academy on West End Avenue.

  Davis joined the Confederate Army at the beginning of the war and fought at Cheat Mountain West Virginia under Robert E. Lee. Stonewall Jackson's Shenandoah Campaign, and at Shiloh and Perryville. After Perryville he joined Coleman's Scouts. There is a huge distinction between a scout and a spy. If you were a scout you were in uniform. If you were a spy you were in civilian dress or you were dressed in the uniform of your enemy. Under the rules of war a scout was to be treated as a prisoner of war and a spy could be executed. Davis was carrying dispatches showing the Union defenses in Nashville. Some of those dispatches were hidden in his boot which used to be on display when I was a child at the Tennessee State Museum. It had been cut open by Union soldiers looking for the papers.

  Davis was a victim of circumstances. When captured at Minor Hill near Pulaski Tennessee Davis was wearing a captured Union uniform that had been dyed to a butternut color. This was not to deceive but was a common practice by Confederate soldiers because of the lack of uniforms. Ironically the two Union soldiers who captured him were were dressed in Confederate uniforms and were real spies. The Union Army's real target was not Davis but the leader of Coleman's Scouts named Colonel Henry B. Shaw who used the alias of E. Coleman. As Davis was led to his cell he noticed Shaw and several other scouts in the cell next to his. The Yankee's really didn't want to execute Davis. They offered him his freedom for the whereabouts of Colonel Shaw. Davis supposedly said " If I had a thousand lives to live, I would give them all rather than betray a friend or the confidence of my informer".

  He was placed on his own coffin in the back of a wagon and driven to the gallows. The officer that was to give the order to hang Davis could not bring himself to give the command. Davis said "Officer I did my duty now you do yours". As many Union troops were visibly weeping the trap was sprung. The Yankee's never realized that they had captured Shaw and he eventually escaped from a train taking him to a northern prison.

Sam Davis
Boyhood home of Sam Davis that was near I-24 and Almaville Road

Sam Davis home at the time of his death

Rock and oak tree where Davis left his horse on the last visit home

Giles County Court House on the day of execution

Sam Davis grave


  One of the things that I try to get across to people and the children that I have the opportunity to teach is the brutality of war and especially of our American Civil war. As we live and go about our daily routines around Nashville, Lavergne, Smyrna, Murfreesboro, Nolensville, Triune, and Franklin, just to name a few of the places touched by the war, we cannot imagine what it was like to live in an area occupied by a hostile enemy. For example Lavergne and Nolensville were completely destroyed in the war and had to be re-built. Triune was ravaged and it's citizens were mistreated. If you lived in Nashville or Murfreesboro you were not allowed to hold a job or transact business unless you signed a loyalty oath to the Union. Many who didn't sign loyalty oaths were either placed in the state prison or shipped off to northern prisons. You could not trust your friends or family and if you lived in the countryside you had to worry about bushwackers, and bandits.

  Then there were the atrocities that occurred like the death of Dewitt Smith Jobe. Dewitt was born in Rutherford County in 1840 and died on August 29,1864 near Triune. Dewitt, like his cousin Sam Davis, also belonged to Coleman's Scouts. He was carrying a dispatch near Triune when he was spotted by a 15 man patrol of the 115th Ohio Calvary. Realizing that he had been seen he quickly tore up his dispatch and swallowed it. The Yankee's caught up with him and strangled him with a horses rein and tied his hands behind him. They pistol whipped him knocking out many of his teeth trying to get him to tell what was in the dispatch. Jobe still refused to talk so they gouged out his eyes. No doubt he was spitting out epithets toward the Yankee's so they cut out his tongue. Then they tied him to the back of a horse and drug him to death.

  Jobe's cousin, Dee Smith, was fighting with the Confederate Army near Atlanta when he received the news about Jobe. He went crazy with rage. Smith left the army and traveled back home to Tennessee. He slipped up on 14 Yankee's sleeping in their tents near Murfreesboro and slit their throats with a butcher knife. He would end up killing 50 more before Union troops finally wounded and captured him near Brookhill Tennessee. He was condemned to death by hanging but died of his wounds before that could happen. The following is a poem written about the death of Dewitt Smith Jobe. "Many good men who passed the spot, would think of Jobe and the deal he got. Or cross themselves like nuns and say on nights when the dark clouds toss, can you hear the clatter of a running hoss? Oh Lawdy! Whats the matter? But nobody talks. The clatter stops and the ghost hoss walks. It's the Yankee's teaching Dee Jobe who's boss at the point of fifteen gun's." The first picture is of Jobe, the second is his Confederate Medal of Honor. The third is the historical sign near the spot of Jobe's death near Triune.

  Thomas Benton Smith was born on February 24th 1838 and died May 21st 1923 and is buried in Confederate Circle in Mt. Olivet Cemetery. He attended West Point but dropped out. After Ft. Sumpter he joined the Confederate Army and fought at Mill Springs Kentucky, Shiloh, Baton Rouge, and was wounded severely at Stones River. He was not able to return to service until just before the battle of Chickamauga where he was severely wounded again. He returned in time for the Atlanta campaign in 1864 and was promoted to Brigadier General on July 29th, 1864. He was appointed to command of an infantry brigade. On the second day at the battle of Nashville on December 16th, 1864 he surrendered after a heroic defense of Shy's Hill. Union Colonel William McMillen began to berate Smith and started hitting him over the head with Smith's own sword exposing his brain. McMillen was angry because his unit had suffered high casualties trying to take Smith's position. Smith was not expected to live but somehow survived. He was sent to prison in Ohio and later to Massachusetts and was not released until July 24th, 1865. He recovered enough to work on the railroad and he ran for Congress but he spent the last 47 years of his life in an insane asylum. 

Minnesota Regiment Attacking Shy's Hill 
Thomas Benton Smith


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