The Fillmore County History Center hosted some special guests on Thursday evening, June 13. From left, Gen. Jeb Stuart, Gen. George Armstrong Custer, Ulysses S. Grant and author Mark Twain joined diners for a picnic on the lawn, followed by a press conference. Gen. Jeb Stuart (Andy Hare) told about his time as a Confederate general leading the boys from Virginia. Gen. George Armstrong Custer (Tom Peacock) shared his perspective on the Civil War and stories about a few "pretty girls" he met on the way to the battlefield. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant (Larry Werline) spoke about his participation in guiding the Union Army during the Civil War.  GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/BLUFF COUNTRY NEWSPAPERS
The Fillmore County History Center hosted some special guests on Thursday evening, June 13. From left, Gen. Jeb Stuart, Gen. George Armstrong Custer, Ulysses S. Grant and author Mark Twain joined diners for a picnic on the lawn, followed by a press conference. Gen. Jeb Stuart (Andy Hare) told about his time as a Confederate general leading the boys from Virginia. Gen. George Armstrong Custer (Tom Peacock) shared his perspective on the Civil War and stories about a few "pretty girls" he met on the way to the battlefield. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant (Larry Werline) spoke about his participation in guiding the Union Army during the Civil War. GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/BLUFF COUNTRY NEWSPAPERS
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Thanks to Custer, Stuart didn't live past dessert.

All's fair in dinner and war.

"Did you survive the war?" asked one of Stuart's fellow diners, to which the general, Jeb Stuart, answered glibly, "No."

And Custer had to get his two bits in, having polished off the pie and Stuart's Confederate army, saying, "He ran into my Michiganders, and we dispatched them."

Gen. Stuart, Gen. George Armstrong Custer and Gen. Ulysses S. Grant joined Fillmore County residents for dinner on the lawn at the Fillmore County History Center on Thursday evening, June 13, as part of a special "Dinner with the Generals" event.

The men, played by professional Civil War re-enactment actors, shared their biographies and their experiences while waging battles in the Civil War.

Gen. Grant

Grant, portrayed by Larry Werline, of Sycamore, Ill., spoke first, recounting how he was called to the White House instead of being able to have dinner and settle into a nice, hot bath at the Washington, D.C., hotel he had just checked into. He was soon face-to-face with President Lincoln, receiving his third general's star and discussing tactical strategies to deal with an uprising of people who would become the Confederate Army.

"I told the president, 'I will follow your army and will not rest until we are victorious. We have the manpower, the industry and the weaponry...we're just not using it properly.' We destroyed their materials and at the same time, we destroyed their will to win the war."

Werline as Gen. Grant described how each battle played out on the fields of Union and Confederate land, on the yards of homes and in the bloody piles of fallen soldiers and horses, and how, at the end, the president told him to allow the surviving Confederate soldiers to live and be free.

"Lincoln said, 'The Confederacy doesn't exist - it's a military rebellion, not our country against their country. Let them up easy.' He wanted the states to come back to the Union quickly, and during the surrender, we met Gen. Robert E. Lee at the home of Wilbur McLean, on whose yard the war had begun and in whose parlor it would come to an end, and we surrendered at Appomattox Courthouse. Lee was taken aback not to be taken prisoner, to be told to take his soldiers home, back to their fields to become farmers and citizens again."

Grant recalled how he was asked to join President Lincoln to the Ford Theatre one night shortly after the end of the Civil War, and how he had declined, been preoccupied, but was called back to the city because Lincoln had been assassinated.

His successor, President Johnson, called the surrender at Appomattox "invalid" and wanted to hang Gen. Lee.

"I told him, 'If you hang Gen. Lee, there'll be guerilla war. I will not fight that war,'" he concluded.

Gen. Custer

Custer, portrayed by Tom Peacock of Caledonia, Ill., most often recognized for his decisions made at the Battle of Little Big Horn, told how he was first a Civil War general, and before becoming a general, he was a schoolteacher in Ohio, earning $28 a month.

His first request to Congressman John Bingham to be recommended to West Point Military Academy was denied, but once he, a poor Democrat, fell in love with the daughter of a wealthy Republican, he quickly received his recommendation, as the young lady's father suggested that he might do well not to spend more time with Miss Mary Jane Holland.

Custer said he was in the "habit of getting demerits" at West Point, and "if you got over 100 in six months, you were gone...I got 99 several times."

He stated, "I was the second class of 1861 to graduate at West Point because they decided that year that we should graduate in four years instead of five, and that's when a lot of my friends started leaving West Point. By the time I graduated, there were only about 34 of us left, and I graduated 34th in my class."

He cited how he was assigned to "get the volunteers in shape" under Gen. Scott in the Second U.S. Cavalry Company G, reporting to Manassas Junction, protecting the artillery in the first major battle of the Civil War.

"I was noticed for my bravery and ended up on the staff of Gen. McClellan," he added.

Custer eventually was recognized as the youngest general in the Union Army at Gettysburg, 23 years old and ready to take on a war.

He concluded, "I think what we did while I was in battle was more important than Pickett's Charge."

Gen Stuart

Gen. Stuart, portrayed by Andy Hare of Belvidere, Ill., was "the sole Confederate in the crowd," and felt it necessary to make himself known. "I'd like to thank you for having me as the sole Confederate for dinner...not for dinner, but at dinner."

The native Virginian graduated from west Point in 1854 and took a steamship to Texas, where he was a second lieutenant in the Texas riflemen's corps. From there, he was sent to Kansas to end an Indian uprising, where he met Col. Philip St. George Cook, whose daughter, Flora, he later married.

Gen. Lee asked Stuart to take on another rebellion, a slave uprising, at Harper's Ferry. "A lot of people think that the war was about slavery, but I put down a slavery rebellion. A lot of people think many things about why the war started, but I knew I could not fight with the U.S. Army when my heart was in Virginia. Unfortunately, my father-in-law decided to stay with the Union. That split the family, and I told my wife that we were changing our son's name, because we had named him after her father. I resigned my lieutenant's commission and became a cavalry officer in the Confederate Army."

He continued, "I was very lucky to have Thomas 'Stonewall' Jackson put in a good word for me...but we all thought that this war would just be a lot of saber rattling, that it would all go away very quickly and we'd be our own country, that it would be over in a hurry, but the big day was at Bull Run, Manassas, or what we call 'the Big Skedaddle'."

Stuart described cavalry fighting in detail, noting that "cavalry engagement is the closest you can be in battle with anyone. Their sabers are three feet long, and you can see the whiskers on their faces, the fear in their eyes, the flash of the sabers as they go into battle. You wanted to unhorse them, and then they'd go down under their horses and be trampled. You wanted the same for the horses. And I never went into battle thinking that I was dying there. My job was to give my life for my company and for the people of Virginia."

Q and A

The gentlemen then took questions from the diners, and Grant first answered a question about whether the war continued after the surrender at Appomattox, and another about whether Lee spoke for the Confederacy or just Virginia when surrendering.

"The last battle was maybe late May of 1865 in Texas, and there were some Confederate raiderships in June, so the war was still winding down. Lee spoke for Virginia, because he didn't have the authority to speak for the entire Confederate Army," he said.

Custer then answered a question regarding who he finally married - he had a wandering eye and heart in his youth. "I finally married Elizabeth Bacon...we were quite happy together."

Custer also addressed an inquiry about ammunition, the advent of repeating rifles and the use of grapeshot. "You can get three more volleys off before you have to reload, and it was said that if you had a repeating rifle, you could load it on Sunday and fire all week," he explained. "They never got too popular during the war. I was wounded once during the war while charging Stuart's army...we were at Culpepper Courthouse and got shot. I told my commanding officer, 'That's worth 30 days' leave!' Actually, I had 13 horses shot out from under me, but was wounded only once. I went home and proposed to my wife."

Grant quipped, "Lucky shot."

Mark Twain

Another notable gentleman appearing at the dinner was Samuel Clemens, otherwise known as author Mark Twain, portrayed by George Scott, of Hannibal, Mo., who stated, "You've got to remember that half the things I say are the truth. And did you know that I was born in Florida? Yep, Florida, Missouri, 33 miles west of Hannibal. The population was 100, so I increased it by 1 percent."

He told a story about how his father accidentally chiseled off his right ear, it fell through a grate into the basement, and he and Becky Thatcher went downstairs to find it.

Once Becky found it, she asked his father, "Is this your ear?"

His father replied, "No, my ear had a pencil behind it."

He pointed toward Fillmore County History Center Director Debra Richardson, saying, "I know two things about Debra. The first thing is she's never been in prison. The second is that we don't know why."

The audience enjoyed a giggle or two as Twain spun yarn after yarn, then applauded as he cartwheeled shortly after stating, "I may be not be the cool Twain, but I'm the soul Twain," feeling a groove to the tune, "Soul Man."

"Dinner with the Generals" was the second of the center's four Civil War programs slated for this summer. The next up, Richardson promised, is a somewhat gruesome but completely fascinating encounter with Dr. Hand, a Civil War surgeon, in late July, and, like Gen. Stuart, not everyone survives dessert