In times of war it is necessary to have scouts, whose duty it is to go into the enemy's lines, and far into the enemy's country, in order to get valuable information, and bring it back to their commanders.
These scouts are called "spies" by the enemy, and if they are caught they are put to death, by the rules of warfare. They frequently disguise themselves by wearing the enemy's uniform, or the clothes of a civilian. Sometimes they dress and act as if they were quite different persons from what they really are. A young scout may play the part of an innocent old farmer, even of a woman; or take any character that will suit his purpose.
It is a life full of danger and adventure. A scout must be very brave and quick-witted. He has no one to depend upon but himself, and his wits are often called upon to do their best to get him out of trouble. He is sometimes absent for days and even weeks, and no one hears a word from him, until he returns with the information wanted.
He brings word of the size of the enemy's army, of their equipment, and of the strength of their positions. He often learns the plans of their proposed battles, and the next movement of their troops. In this way, his commander will know exactly when to attack his enemy, and how best to defend himself.
Sam Davis was a young Southern soldier, detailed as a scout. He was only seventeen years old, but he was a fine rider, and knew all the country into which he was expected to go. General Bragg, of the Southern Army, desired to know the strength of the Federal forts in Middle Tennessee, and he selected Sam Davis to bring him the information.
When Davis came before him, General Bragg said, "Davis, I wish you to get this information for me. It is a dangerous task, my boy, but you know the country and you are the best one to go. Be very careful, for if you are caught, you will be shot as a spy. You need not go if you do not wish to."
Davis stood erect, saluted the General, and said, "I am not afraid. I know the country, and am ready to go. I also know the dangers, and what will happen to me if I am caught. What are your instructions, sir?"
He rode off early one morning, dressed in a disguise. What he did, or where he received the information, or from whom he obtained it, will never be known, for it was never told by any one.
After several weeks' absence, Davis had procured all the data he needed, and was on his way back to his own lines. In his possession were very important papers and drawings. As he was riding along, thinking that in a few hours he would be beyond danger of capture, he saw a body of Federal soldiers in the road. Hoping to pass them without disturbance, he rode boldly on as if he were going to work somewhere.
One of the soldiers said, "We had better stop that boy. He might be a spy." So they called upon Davis to halt, and to get down from his horse. In spite of his protests of innocence, he was searched, and the papers were found in his clothes.
Hurriedly, the boy was taken before the Northern General, and the papers found upon him were shown. He was court-martialed, and, according to the rules of war, was ordered to be shot the next day at sunrise. Davis heard the sentence without uttering a word, or even changing color.
The Northern General was much affected by the brave conduct of the young scout. Sending for him to come to his tent, he said to him,
"My boy, you are very young, and you are very brave. I hate to take a life like yours. If you will tell me who gave you those papers, I will let you go free. Think of your mother and father, and of the life before you, and save yourself."
Davis shook his head, and said, "General, I received those papers from a friend, and I shall not tell his name."
The General then said, "Davis, if you do not tell me the name of your friend, I shall be compelled, by the rules of war, to order you shot to-morrow morning. I hate to do this, for I should like to save your life. But I cannot help you, if you refuse."
Davis answered, "Do you suppose I would save my own life by betraying a friend? I have never betrayed anything in all my life, and I shall not do so now. I would rather die a thousand times than betray any secret committed to my care."
There were tears in the eyes of the General. He thought of his own boys, and of his own scouts who had done similar service for him, and had gotten off safe. Turning to the guard, he said simply, "Take the lad away. It nearly breaks my heart to sign this order."
The next morning, Davis was led before a file of soldiers. At the very last, he was firm in his refusal to give any information as to where he received the papers. Those around him begged him to change his mind, but he answered quietly,
"No, I shall not betray my friend. I have given my word. I am ready to die as a soldier and a man."
The bandage was placed over his eyes, and, in a few moments, the reports of the rifle told of the end of Sam Davis's life. On the grounds of the capitol, in Nashville, there is a beautiful monument erected to his memory by the State of Tennessee.