Letter from Lt. Samuel Boyer Davis – Johnson’s Island, February 1st, 1865 – “I am condemned to die.” Also, a book he wrote: Escape of a Confederate Officer from Prison – What he saw at Andersonville – How he was sentenced to death and saved by the interposition of President Abraham Lincoln
One of the greatest stories in the Civil War concerns that of Lt. Samuel Boyer Davis who was on the staff of Maj. Gen. Isaac R. Trimble. Davis on July 3rd, 1863 at the battle of Gettysburg was with Trimble when a bullet ripped through his chest, penetrating a lung. Quoting an article in Gettysburg Magazine by Roger Long:

“Taken prisoner, Davis was carried up Cemetery Hill by two Portuguese soldiers and deposited behind the stone wall. Death stared down at him in the guise of a Federal surgeon with a heavy German accent. After examining the wound the prognosis was given: ‘I dink by God you die…’”

That is just the beginning of this amazing story. Davis recuperates, pays off a guard and escapes. He makes it to Richmond, Va. With Gen. Trimble in prison on Johnson’s Island, Davis is assigned to Brig. Gen. John H. Winder’s staff. He ends up in Andersonville prison and works there through the summer of 1864. By that time, the horrors facing the prisoners at Andersonville were multiplying. Davis decided he would seek a different assignment and in Richmond was given the task of carrying secret papers to the Confederate commissioners in Canada. He left Richmond in civilian attire and disguise on December 28th. Quoting Roger Long:

“Remaining in Toronto three days, Davis started back to Richmond with messages on silk, sewed inside his coat, traveling via Detroit, Toledo, and across Ohio toward Baltimore. But on the train that bleak, January day, Davis met with an unfortunate coincidence near the village of Bellville, Ohio. Frank Beverstock, now exchanged from Andersonville, boarded the train at Lexington and recognized Davis through his disguise. At Newark he was arrested but managed to burn the silk lining from his coat in a jail stove.”

Davis was quickly tried in Cincinnati and sentenced to be hanged on Johnson’s Island in frozen Sandusky Bay. The sentence was to be carried out on February 17th. For days Davis could hear the carpenters pounding building the scaffold and the band practicing the death march.

In our letter dated February 1st, 1865, Davis is writing “My Dear Willy”, who was the son of his friend General Trimble:

"I am condemned to die on Friday 17th of this month. I cannot see the girls but must see you & Dave. I have written to him come & say farewell. We must say “Thy will be done”. I have telegraphed to Bishop Lee to come & see me.

Good bye
Yrs. Affectionately
Saml. B. Davis"

With the letter is the original envelope with a “Sandusky O. Feb. 2, 65” cancellation. Interestingly, authorities provided Davis with an official “Head Quarters, U.S. Forces, at Johnson’s Island and Sandusky” envelope!

And now the rest of the story: President Lincoln interceded to commute the sentence of hanging, but General Hooker refused to have Davis informed until moments before he was to hang. As the band played “The Dead March” Davis was informed of Lincoln’s action.

“Removed from Johnson’s Island on February 17th, 1865, he passed through a series of prisons and was not permitted to testify at Wirz’s trail in Washington. Eventually released, about a year after the war ended, Davis was a steamboat captain on the Potomac. Eventually he wrote his memoirs, a rare volume today…” 

INCLUDED WITH THIS LETTER AND COVER IS A COPY OF THIS EXTREMELY RARE BOOK. We know of one other example of Davis writing from Johnson’s Island. In Cowan’s December 2004 sale, a letter with no cover or book realized $2,070.

#L638 – Price $2,950