150 Years Ago This Week: Guilty as charged

June/July 1865

Capt. George Summers Jr.
Capt. George Summers Jr.

On Tuesday, June 27, at about 7.30 p.m., as the sun was setting behind the distant mountains forming the west wall of the Shenandoah Valley, a single volley of six rifles rang out on Rude’s Hill a mile north of New Market. Two former Page County Confederate cavalrymen were executed without trial by a squad of Union riflemen.

Previously, on May 22, some six weeks after Gen. Robert E. Lee had surrendered his army to Lt. Gen. Ulysses Grant at Appomattox Courthouse, Capt. George Summers, Jr. and Sgt. Isaac Koontz, formerly of Company D, 7th Virginia Cavalry, along with two other Page County soldiers, Jacob Koontz and Andrew Kite, had had a disagreement with some cavalrymen of the 22nd New York Cavalry they had encountered north of Mount Jackson. The New York troopers surrendered their horses and some personal property to the Page County Confederates.

After returning to their homes in Page County, Capt. Summers was convinced by his father, George Summers Sr., to return the horses and property to the commander of the 192nd Ohio at Rude’s Hill. The commander, Col. Francis Butterfield, agreed that on return of the Union property, all would be forgiven.

There the matter rested until after Col. Butterfield went on furlough for a month, leaving Lt. Col. Cyrus Hussey in command. Col. Hussey was not as forgiving, and he ordered a squad of his men to go to Page County on June 27 and arrest the four former Confederates. Two of them, Jacob Koontz and Andrew Kite, managed to escape but Capt. Summers and Sgt. Koontz were apprehended and taken over Massanutten Mountain to Shenandoah County, where they were informed they were to be executed without trial.

They pleaded for their lives, but to no avail, and the pair were shot by firing squad at sunset. A witness to the execution, Jane Hurt Weakley, and her cousin, Rev. Thornton Taylor, both of Page County, were stopped by Union soldiers until the execution was completed as they went south in their wagon on the Valley Pike at Rude’s Hill. Mrs. Weakley fainted when the shots rang out, and said later it was the most horrible sight she had ever witnessed. The following morning, the senior Summers arrived to discuss the matter with the Federals, and was surprised beyond belief to find his son and his son’s companion lying dead on Rude’s Hill. Both of the deceased were taken on June 29 back to their Page County homes near Alma and buried in their respective family cemeteries. Today the site of the execution on Rude’s Hill is marked by a white marble cenotaph erected in 1893 along the Valley Pike north of New Market.

On Friday, June 30, following the lengthy trial, the military commission sitting in Washington found all eight alleged Lincoln conspirators guilty as charged in the crimes of assassination of Abraham Lincoln and the attempted murder of Secretary of State William Seward on April 14. Samuel Mudd, Michael O’Laughlen and Samuel Arnold received life sentences, while Edman Spangler was given six years. The remaining four, Mary Surratt, David Herold, George Atzerodt and Lewis Powell, were sentenced to be hanged. A public outcry went up over the decision to execute Mrs. Surratt; several appeals were made to President Andrew Johnson to commute her death sentence to life imprisonment, but to no avail. The sentences were to be carried out on Friday, July 7. On Saturday, July 1, New Hampshire ratified the 13th Amendment to the Constitution.

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