WILTON -- Ulysses S. Grant Cottage returned to the place of his death Saturday, or at least a Civil War re-enactor playing him did.
Under a tent at the U.S. Grant Cottage State Historic Site during its inaugural Civil War Weekend, a "living historian" playing Grant explained how the Civil War general and later U.S. president met Mark Twain.
"We actually met for the first time in the executive mansion. I was president, and our friendship started immediately. We were both from the Midwest," he said. "As to how he ended up publishing my memoirs. He came to visit me. I was thinking about writing my memoirs. I had made a deal with Century Magazine at the time. I had sent them some essays. They wanted me to put them together and write my memoirs. They made me an offer and I was ready to accept it, when Sam, as I called him, explained to me that it was a terrible deal and that I should get much more for that memoir and made me an offer. He said I'd get get a percentage of the profit or a certain royalty. I thought about it, and I said I'll take a percentage of the profits. I didn't live to see the results, but Mrs. Grant did."
Grant's Cottage preserves the house he lived in while he wrote his famous biography, which made his family the equivalent of $11 million. He died inside the cottage in 1885 from esophageal cancer. Civil War Weekend included more than 100 re-enactors, history-themed vendors, historians answering questions as historical characters, food and music and a full-scale Civil War re-enactment battle complete with cannons and cavalry charges.
Tim Welch, president of the Ulysses S. Grant Cottage Board of Trustees, said it cost about $10,000 to put on the event, although some of the cost was deferred from donations of goods from companies like Stewart's Shops. He said Grant Cottage hopes to raise about $10,000 from the weekend event, money they intend to put toward a "fire suppression sprinkler system" estimated to cost between $75,000 and $100,000. Welch said when New York state closed the Mt. McGregor Correctional Facility, which is near to the cottage, about four years ago, it also shut down the water running into the nearby hire hydrants, leaving the historical site vulnerable to potential fires.
"Mt. McGregor is a very desolate place, especially the six months a year when we're not open. We're very fearful that, God forbid, if a fire ever started there during the wintertime, the place would burn to the ground before a volunteer fire department would ever be able to get up the mountain," he said.
Welch said people who would like to make a donation toward paying for sprinkler system can do so at www.grantcottage.org.
The Civil War Weekend also has a connection to Wilton's bicentennial celebration and seeks to honor the approximately 90 Wilton residents who fought in the Civil War as part of Company D of the 77th NY Regiment, 6th corps of the Union Army. The soldiers from Wilton fought with an insignia on their hats that showed a white cross on a blue field.
Author Bob Conner, a former Daily Gazette reporter, attended the event with copies of his two Civil War-themed books, a biography of Gen. Gordan Granger and his latest book, "The last Circle of Ulysses Grant." Conner said much of his novel takes place in Grant's cottage and deals with disputes among people in Grant's inner circle. He said the Civil War Weekend gives him and other historical writers at the event the opportunity to introduce their work to Civil War enthusiasts.
"It's a work of fiction, but nothing happens in it that might not have happened. Historical fiction works within those rules. I've had a long connection with Grant's cottage, and it has a facinating history," he said.
Katie Brown, who recently graduated from Virginia Tech with a master's degree in history with a focus on the Civil War, attended the weekend as one of the "living historians." She answered questions under the same tent as Grant, only she played the part of Emma Edmonds, a Canadian woman who joined the Union Army pretending to be a man.
"She came to the U.S. to escape an abusive family and she dressed as a man to survive. She started selling Bibles before the war actually broke out. She decided to enlist out of abolitionist sentiment as well as loyalty to the Union," she said. "She was forced to dessert after two years due to illness and a broken leg in 1863. I read about her in a book about female soldiers."
The Civil War Weekend brought out a lot of families with young children, such as Dallas Devries of Latham, and his two sons Denver, 8, and Oslo, 5. Dallas said he believes the event was educational for his sons. Denver proved him right.
"I liked the part when they actually shot the guns, not just aiming them," Denver said. "They were remaking the Civil War. The Civil War was the fight against the North and the South. The North didn't want any slaves in the country and the South wanted to keep slaves, so they fought."