"The Boys Will Have to Fight the Battles without Me" the Making of Sam Davis, "Boy Hero of the Confederacy"

By Harcourt, Edward John | Southern Cultures, Fall 2006 | Go to article overview

"The Boys Will Have to Fight the Battles without Me" the Making of Sam Davis, "Boy Hero of the Confederacy"


Harcourt, Edward John, Southern Cultures


On a recent Confederate Memorial Day at the Tennessee State Capitol, the General Joseph E. Johnston Camp No. 28, Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV), performed a pathetic little ceremony under the portico of the antebellum building. A small band of die-hards, their numbers were more than doubled by curious tourists, conscripted children, and an entertainment troupe called the Dixie Picks. A history professor from a local community college began proceedings with an angry and passionate recitation of Father Abram Joseph Ryan's poem to the battle flag. Turning southwards, the speaker pointed to the statue of the Confederate martyr Sam Davis, erected on Capitol grounds in 1909, and proclaimed that the story of the "boy hero" was "a living reminder of the valor of your flesh and blood." Executed by the Union army in 1863 for scouting behind enemy lines, Sam Davis had become a folk hero by the end of the nineteenth century; almost Christ-like in his representation of duty, bravery, and honor, he embodied the South's idealized image of itself during the crisis of the 1860s.

The martyr's honor, however, was besieged at the turn of the twenty-first century by those who wished to associate the memory of his "matchless glory" with the shame of slavery. Within fifteen feet of the Confederate statue, the speaker's friends had thrown a tarpaulin over a simple monument erected in 1999 by the Black Caucus of Tennessee state legislators to the victims of the Middle Passage who died en route to slavery in the Americas. The dedication of this simple granite block, set beside a Scarlet Oak sapling, had infuriated members of the SCV who called the monument's proximate placement to the Davis statue "a foolish little sophomoric prank." In a testy exchange of opinions in the press, a spokesperson for the Black Caucus claimed no intent "to disrespect a Confederate soldier or have it overshadow him in any way" and said that that the location for the monument to slavery's victims was determined by horticultural factors alone. Nonetheless, on Confederate Memorial Day the monument was covered to erase any suggestion that slavery was part of the secessionists' cause. (1)

Once a defiant public celebration for southern whites, Confederate Memorial Day has never been a moment for ambivalent thinking about southern identity and the meaning of the Civil War. The days when governors eulogized the Confederate cause, and the most prominent citizens jockeyed for position on the speaker's podium, are long gone. But though the crowds no longer come, time has not diluted the moral imperative--the passionate certitude--of Confederate symbolism, which, like Corinthian columns, continues to dominate the temple of the South's historical imagination. As readers of Southern Cultures are well aware, however, the white South's public commemoration of the Civil War era tells a highly selective, carefully orchestrated, and incomplete story of the service, suffering, and sacrifice of Americans during the terrible crisis of the 1860s. In recent years, scholars of the American Civil War era--taking a cue from historians of the First World War and the Holocaust--have moved into the study of historical memory both to explore how we have come to know what we think happened during the 1860s and to reconceptualize the questions we ask about one of the most critical events in U.S. history. In a southern context, the move into memory studies seems especially appropriate because so many popular assumptions and sources about the war and its aftermath continue to be stained with a resilient dye of sentimentalism, white supremacy, and martial nostalgia. (2)

The commemorative history of Sam Davis is a case study in collective memory making as part of the reconstruction of white southern identity during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries; these memories and identities, moreover, are sustained and perpetuated today by many white southerners. There is a puzzling lack of ambiguity in the commemoration of Davis. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

"The Boys Will Have to Fight the Battles without Me" the Making of Sam Davis, "Boy Hero of the Confederacy"
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.