On June 27, 1865, Confederates Capt. George Summers and Sgt. Isaac Newton Koontz were executed north of New Market, without trial, for a crime for which they had previously been forgiven.
Summers and Koontz were members of the Massanutten Rangers, which had disbanded on April 10, 1865, the day after Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox. On May 22, the two men, along with Pvt. Jacob D. Koontz (Isaac’s brother) and Pvt. Andrew J. Kite, left their homes in the Page Valley to travel to Woodstock to take the oath of allegiance to the Union and obtain their paroles. Near Narrow Passage on the Valley Pike they came upon a group of Union cavalrymen. For reasons now unknown, an altercation occurred, and the Confederates drew revolvers and seized the Federals’ horses and other property.
The men returned home, but remorseful and fearing retribution, and at the insistence of Summers’ father, they traveled the next morning to the camp of the 192nd Ohio on Rude’s Hill and explained the situation to the unit’s commander, Col. Francis Butterfield. A sympathetic Butterfield agreed that if the property was returned the men “should not be molested or disturbed.” The property was returned and all was apparently forgiven.
But a month later, Union Lt. Col. Cyrus Hussey, who was in temporary command of the Ohio regiment while Butterfield was away, ordered the arrest and execution of the “men who been guilty of attacking U.S. troops and stealing horses.” Hussey may have acted on reports made by Page County Unionist William Tharp. On the morning of June 27, Union cavalry arrested Capt. Summers and Sgt. Koontz and brought them back to the New Market side of the mountain. (Jacob Koontz and Andrew Kite escaped.)
The men asked to go to the Union camp to plead their case, but upon reaching Rude’s Hill, north of New Market – but short of the Federal camp – they were told they could go no further. At 7:30 pm, as the sun set, the men were tied to a stake and shot.
In a farewell letter to his family, the 22-year old Summers wrote, “Very much to my surprise, we must soon leave this world to try the realities of a new one…” The 20-year old Koontz wrote to his fiancée, Emma Shuler: “They are now ready to shoot me. Oh, Emma, dearest in the world to me, how can I leave you but I must…Try to meet me in Heaven where I hope to go.”
“Try to meet me in Heaven where I hope to go.”
The men were not necessarily executed for the actions of May 22, but may have fallen victim to rumors spread by Tharp, a local man seeking retaliation for his own sufferings as a Southern Unionist.
A wooden pillar was erected at the site of the executions as a memorial shortly after the executions. It was replaced in 1893 by the marble monument that stands to this day.
This article is based on information included in Robert H. Moore, II’s book, Tragedy in the Shenandoah: The Story of the Summers-Koontz Execution. Copies of Tragedy in the Shenandoah can be purchased at the SVBF’s online store here.