Davis, Samuel


Davis, Samuel
Mate Samuel Davis, photo from the Sherman W. Davis collection

Samuel B. Davis was born in 1842 in Coram, one of seven children born to Lester and Harriet Davis. The Davis family lived in a two-story brick home on Middle Country Road.

On March 23, 1864, Davis, a boatman by trade (according to the 1860 census), entered the Navy. He was assigned duty aboard the U.S.S. Heliotrope, a wooden steamer. It served as a tug and ordinance boat as part of the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron, and made occasional trips up the James River.

On March 16, 1865 the Heliotrope was part of a naval expedition that went up the Rappahannock River to Montrose, Virginia, where they destroyed a supply base that was being used by Confederate guerillas.

After this victory the Heliotrope was decommissioned. Davis was then assigned duty as a mate aboard the U.S.S. Kearsarge, which was docked in Boston for repairs following its famous battle with the Confederate raider, the C.S.S. Alabama. The Kearsarge returned to service in April of 1865, when Davis and the others sailed to Europe to find other Confederate raiders such as the C.S.S. Shenendoah and the C.S. Ram, Stonewall.

Samuel Davis kept a journal of this voyage. According to his journal, Davis reported for duty aboard the Kearsarge on April 9, 1865. On the 10th, the seamen learned that Lee had surrendered to Grant. In celebration, the crew dressed the ship with colors.

The ship left port on April 15th for Spain. On May 5, 1865, they learned of Lincoln's death. Captain Harrell ordered the officers and crew to wear crepe on their left arm for six months. On May 9th, the ship fired its guns to mourn Lincoln's death.

On May 15th, the Kearsarge arrived at the port of Cadiz, Spain. The crew were given leave time, and Davis traveled to Madrid where he witnessed a bullfight and saw 28 horses and bulls killed. The ship continued its tour of the Mediterranean. In his journal, Davis expressed hope that the ship would visit Palestine, writing "there is no other place in the world I wish to visit more."

The USS Kearsarge

On November 12, 1865, Davis wrote that the C.S.S. Shenendoah surrendered to British authorities at Liverpool, seven months after the war ended. A day later the Shenendoah was turned over to the Americans.

The Kearsarge received orders to put out to sea and head for Italy. They arrived at Genoa on the November 25th and stayed there for more than a month. Davis eagerly anticipated Christmas in Italy. On December 24th, he wrote, "the streets are decorated with everything green. Christmas trees are numerous." On Christmas Day, Davis described how the seamen celebrated together:

The men decorated the foward part of the ship with the ships colors. The 11-inch gun being covered with the American Ensign gave everything a fine appearance. A musical band came from the shore to supply the music. Tables were set with everything that anyone need wish. All of the officers were invited by the men to dine with them. On one end of the table was placed a chair covered with the national flag for the first Lieut. Mr. Dewey.

(Lt. George Dewey, a shipmate of Davis, later gained fame as Admiral Dewey, who defeated the Spanish fleet at Manila during the Spanish American War.)
Davis' journal continued:

Dewey after finishing his dinner made a short speech complimenting the men for their good behavior. Toasts were given by many officers and men such as this. May the time be not far distant when the American Eagle shall pick out the crown of England.

Davis' final comment expressed the resentment that many Americans felt toward the British for giving aid to the Confederacy during the Civil War.

The crew of the Kearsarge.

Throughout January, the Kearsarge continued its tour of European ports. In February, however, the ship received orders to proceed to the West Coast of Africa. They arrived at Sierra Leone on March 7, 1866. A few days later, the men, restless from the many days at sea, "got drunk and fought very hard. All hands called to quarters to supress mutiny. 15 men in irons."

Davis made his last entry into his diary on March 16, 1866, when he wrote, "At 12 a.m. came to anchor off Monrovia. Saluted the flag with 21 guns. Answered at 4:00 by a battery." This was the same day that an outbreak of Yellow Fever developed onboard. Samuel Davis became sick with the fever and died March 21, 1866, at the age of 23.

Captain Harrell, commander of the Kearsarge, wrote to Davis' father, Lester, "the sad event is universally regretted by all his brother officers." Adolphus Schonders, a shipmate and friend of Davis, also wrote to Samuel's family. He described what happened:

To Lester Davis, Coram
It is with feelings of deepest sorrow, that I communicate the intelligence of the death of your son, Samuel which occured at sea, on the 21st of March 1866, at 12 o'clock and 3 minutes at night. Having been ordered to cruise on the west coast of Africa, we were fullfilling our instructions when the yellow fever made its appearance on board and your son was one of the first attacked. His illness was of short duration, being sick one or two days previous to his death. Although during his last hours his mind wandered he died apparently free from all pain.

The sad event, coupled as it was with the loss of fourteen persons, has cast a gloom over all attached to this ship, and to add to the fears expressed, we were from the first left without medical aid, through the death of our surgeon...

Knowing Samuel as I did, not only as a fellow officer, but as my own personal friend and companion, I feel that by his death I have indeed lost one that was very dear to me, whose many virtues will be remembered, whose qualities as an officer an a gentleman are the theme of admiration amongst his shipmates. Permit me, my dear Sir while mourning the loss of the lamented dead, to extend to his parents and friends, my heartfelt sympathy. Should I be spared to return it will be my endeavor at once to call on those so suddenly bereaved.

Very truly yours,
Adolphus Schonders,
Mate of the Kearsarge

Years later, Samuel's brother, Everett Davis, wrote a letter dated October 24, 1899 to Admiral Dewey, then stationed at Washington. He asked the Admiral if he remembered serving with Mate Samuel Davis. The family was encouraged by Dewey's prompt reply, which came 3 days later, on October 27, 1899:

Dear Sir
Replying to your letter of the 24th instant, relating to the service of your brother Samuel Davis, on board the U.S.S. Kearsarge during the Civil War, I have to state that I remember him perfectly, and that he was a good officer as well as a good man.

Very truly yours,
George Dewey

The Davis homestead on Middle Country Road in Coram. Photo from the collection of Davis Erhardt.

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