Who was this Capt. Summers who fell at White House Farm?

Posted on July 9, 2013 by


I first encountered a reference to Capt. Summers (see yesterday’s post in which I mention his death) when I was looking into the names of the different G.A.R. posts in this general area. It so happens that George D. Summers Post No. 13 was out of Berkeley Springs, West Virginia. There is, by the way, a monument to the post in Greenway Cemetery, in Berkeley Springs.

While that’s interesting, George Denton/Dent Summers’ background is more so. For starters, he isn’t what some folks might consider the stereotypical Federal. Perhaps he’s something more typical of what one might find in Union men in blue from the border states.

“Dent” was the second oldest son of Nathaniel and Mary Wade Summers; both who came to Washington County, Maryland from families that made their initial starts in eastern Maryland. According to A History of Washington County, Maryland, by Thomas John Chew Williams (1906), Dent’s grandfather moved to Hancock, in 1800…

Paul Summers removed to Washington County, having bought 600 acres of land lying along the Potomac river, in the Hancock District No. 5, the tract known as Prospect Farm, which is rich in cement. Paul Summers died on Prospect farm about 1848, at the age of ninety years. In politics he was a Federalist; in religion, Episcopalian. 

Dent’s mother was the daughter of Lancelot Wade, who was described as “a large planter and slave holder of Prince Georges County”.

I’m not certain why, but Williams (1906) biographical sketch of the Summers family suggests the Summers’ slave-holdings were larger than what they actually were. In 1850, for example, Nathaniel owned six slaves, five of whom (given their ages) appear to have been a family unit. While larger than the average family of slave-holders in western Maryland, it doesn’t quite identify the family as being of the “planter class”, which Williams attempted to do at various points. Nonetheless…

Born in St. Mary’s County, Maryland, in 1788, Nathaniel Summers was said to have received “an excellent education from private tutors.”

He then studied civil engineering, at which business he was employed during much of his life. He enlisted in the War of 1812, was an adjutant, and took part in the battle of Bladensburg, which occurred in 1814. He was an old line Whig, and was prominent in politics, enjoying an extensive acquaintance among the party leaders. He was reared in the faith of the Episcopal Church, but as there was no church of that denomination in Hancock, he united with the Methodist Episcopal Church, his views on religion, as on all other matters, being very liberal. He contributed generously to the support of churches of various denominations.

Nathaniel appears to have moved to Washington County before the 1820s, when he joined his parents at Prospect Farm.

The Nathaniel Summers family, as enumerated in the 1850 census.

The Nathaniel Summers family, as enumerated in the 1850 census.

The eldest son by Nathaniel’s first marriage (to Sarah Wade; also a daughter of Lancelot Wade), John Wesley Summers followed in the footsteps of his father, as both a farmer and civil engineer. Upon Nathaniel’s death, in 1856, J.W.S. returned to Hancock and took-up “management of the plantation and the control of the many slaves”. Five years prior to this, John maintained his spot at this particular level of the social strata by marrying Catherine Hart, the daughter of… yet another “planter” (yes, I just added parentheses)… who, at one point, was (according to this same bio sketch) the “largest land-owner in that district”. “Prospect Farm” remained John Summers’ responsibility until his early death in 1858 (he was only 35 years old).

After John Wesley, responsibility for the plantation shifted to Nathaniel’s second oldest surviving son, Sylvester. It had not been Nathaniel’s intent, however, for this to be Sylvester’s life. Educated in subscription schools and at Dickinson College, Carlisle, Pa., it was Nathaniel’s hope that Sylvester study for the ministry. Nonetheless, like his father and oldest (half) brother before him, he also took up civil engineering, and was engaged in the practice for “four years on public works; two years on the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal and two years on railroads.” Apparently, Sylvester was heavily tasked between his responsibilities to his profession and to his family obligations, considering how he was listed in the 1860 census… as a lock keeper at Hancock.

Sylvester and wife, in the 1860 census. Frankly, the census listing makes it appear things were much more modest than described by the author of the family sketch, written around 1906.

Sylvester and wife, in the 1860 census. Frankly, the census listing makes it appear things were much more modest than described by the author of the family sketch, written around 1906.

By 1860, widow Mary Summers heads the household. Note two things here... first, George is listed as "Denton", though family records suggest he carried the family name of "Dent". Second, this, like the listing for Sylvester appears rather modest. On this same census page are Wade family members, who, most certainly, are more wealthy. What was the author from 1906 trying to do, I wonder?

By 1860, widow Mary Summers heads the household. Note two things here… first, George is listed as “Denton” (and, he is also listed as “Denton” in some service records), though family records suggest he carried the family name of “Dent”. Second, this, like the listing for Sylvester appears rather modest. On this same census page are Wade family members, who, most certainly, are more wealthy. What was the author of the family sketch from 1906 trying to do, I wonder?

If you think I’ve forgotten about Dent… who was actually Nathaniel’s third oldest surviving son. Hold on just a sec, and I’ll get back to him. First, I think it’s important to look just a little while longer at Sylvester…

When the war came, Sylvester was, as some might expect, leaning in favor of the Confederacy, and that whole story… though so little is really known about it… is interesting (note that Hancock was rather Confederate, while Clear Spring and Four Locks, not far to the east, in the same county, was said to be the strongest presence of Unionism in the county). Despite his inclinations, Sylvester could apparently be persuaded otherwise, for it appears… through his friend, Montgomery Blair, he obtained an appointment from President Lincoln as postmaster. So, I really wonder just how hard Sylvester was actually leaning toward the Confederacy. I’m also wondering if Nathaniel’s influence… though at the time, five years since his death… had anything to do with Sylvester’s swinging back toward the Union (or, was it simply… opportunity?). Maybe it’s just me wanting to think it might be possible, but… Nathaniel, being both a veteran of the War of 1812 and considered “an Old Line Whig”… holds two key elements that I find in many Southern Unionists. Despite how much I might “want” it to be so, there were plenty of other examples in the South where that formula just didn’t matter. Sons did what they wanted to do, no matter how much the fathers objected.

I could continue into more particulars about the family, but I’m afraid Dent might get lost in the story. The point I want to make is… this is the world in which Dent grew-up.

The disappointment is… there’s not nearly as much out there on his early life, before the war. My hunch is, however, that… like his older brothers… he received an exceptional education (perhaps even a student at Dickinson… I just need to verify that).

As a 28 year-old 1st lieutenant, Dent formed a cavalry company which was enrolled with the 2nd Potomac Home Brigade Infantry (PHB), on August 26, 1861, near Hancock. The company eventually became known as “Capt. [Lewis B.] Dyche’s 6th Company”… and later… “Company F” of the 2nd PHB Infantry. It might seem strange to see a cavalry company in an infantry regiment, but… it was the Potomac Home Brigade, and so… this was not necessarily out of order.

The company doesn’t appear often in reports, and there is actually more in the service records that prove to be of interest.

Dyche, for example, submitted his resignation on September 7, 1862, because, as he stated “a portion of my company has become unmanageable, and am afraid of my life to enforce the law“. The reality of it was, however, that some men had gotten drunk, and… Dyche simply lost the ability to lead as company commander.

Summers was also frustrated, not only at the men who had gotten drunk, but also over a 2nd lieutenant, and Capt. Dyche… for not having punished the men responsible. He also submitted his resignation, on the same day as Dyche…


While no senior officers seemed to object to Dyche’s resignation, the document did take time to circulate to the highest authority, before becoming official. As a captain who had lost the ability to manage his own men, Dyche routed a follow-up letter…


Summers also sent a follow-up letter, to regimental commander, Col. Robert Bruce, on October 16, asking the disposition of his resignation, and that, in addition to the reasons cited, his “private business is such that it needs my immediate attention.”

Col. Bruce, however, replied the following day…

I regret that you seem to think it advisable to tender your resignation and would much prefer you would withdraw it. Capt. D. will insist on having his accepted from the way he talks and writes and I know of no better person to take command of the company than yourself.

In the end, both resignations were accepted, but… Summers’ was rescinded, and by December, 1862, he was appointed captain of Co. F.

From January to June, 1863, Summers’ company was assigned, along with Capt. William F. Firey’s Co. B, 1st Potomac Home Brigade Cavalry (the company of Cole’s Cavalry in which my own people served) to Andrew T. McReynolds, at Martinsburg (and Berryville).

In some ways, this brings us full-circle, and back to the “real time” Sesqui timeline.

On July 12 (this Friday will be 150 years to the date), Summers, while near Frederick, Maryland, submitted a report of activities for the month of June, 1863. It is the only report of his which is in the Official Records of the Rebellion.

You will see from the report that I had a skirmish at Berryville on Sunday, the 14th day of June. My advance ran into a large body of cavalry near Berryville. I lost 1 man wounded and 2 captured, and was forced to fall back, after inflicting some punishment on the enemy. I fell back to Charlestown, and then to Halltown, contesting every inch of ground with the enemy’s skirmishers.

From there, on June 16, I was ordered to fall back to Maryland Heights, which I did without further loss, being the last soldier in this command that left Dixie.

On June 17, was ordered by General Tyler in company with Captain Vernon’s company, to go to Point of Rocks, and hold the position. Before we got there we were attacked by White’s battalion; we were overpowered and whipped. I regret to say I lost 1 brave man killed, 3 wounded, and 4 missing.

On the 18th instant, 3 of my men who were sent with some of Captain Vernon’s were captured, after desperate resistance, at Frederick, Md.

I was then ordered to go to Berlin, Md., which town I occupied until June 30, when I was ordered to Maryland Heights again, and on the next day to this place. I have scouted all around since, and have done some good work.

Two of my men (couriers) were captured near Gettysburg, on July 5, by Stuart’s cavalry.

I am now temporarily attached to Major Cole’s battalion, but should be pleased to be near you—my regiment, at least. I want to be in General Kelley’s department. Will you please make effort to get me with you? I write to General Kelley to that effect to-day.

All is quiet here. The victorious Army of the Potomac is in front of Lee, near Hagerstown, Md. I hope that Lee will stand to fight. If he does, I feel certain of victory for our arms.

I am, colonel, with great respect, your most obedient servant…

Of course, we know what was to follow in less than three months, but I forgot, the other day, to to mention the compliment paid by Col. Geo. D. Wells, to Summers…

The loss of Captain Summers is greatly deplored. A brave, daring soldier, a perfect officer and thorough gentleman, his place is not easily filled.

I’ve been unable to find Summers’ burial site, but believe it’s in the vicinity of Hancock, Maryland… probably in the same cemetery with his parents… whose graves I have also been unable to locate.

Update, 2/21/14: Interestingly, I recently realized that Capt. Summers has ancestry in the Moore family. We share an ancestor in my seventh grandfather, James “110” Moore. The Moore and Summers families were close, both in Prince Georges County, Maryland, and then later in Washington County, Maryland. George Dent Summers was the son of Nathaniel, who was the son of Paul Summers, who was the son of George Summers, who was the son of John Summers and Mary Moore… Mary being a daughter of James “110” Moore.