Irene Triplett, last person to collect an American civil war pension, dies at 90

Irene Triplett, last person to collect an American civil war pension, dies at 90
Irene Triplett, last person to collect an American civil war pension, dies at 90  

The last person to receive a US government pension from the American civil war has died.

Related: Confederate statue to be removed from Virginia's Monument Avenue

Irene Triplett was 90 when she died last Sunday in Wilkesboro, North Carolina. Her father, Mose Triplett, fought for the Confederacy and the Union in the civil war, which began in 1861 and ended with the defeat of the slave power in 1865. He applied for his Union pension 20 years after the war and in 1930, when his daughter was born, he was 83.

The Wall Street Journal, which spoke to Irene Triplett for a story in 2014, reported that she died "from complications following surgery for injuries from a fall, according to the nursing home where she lived".

Dennis St Andrew, a commander of the North Carolina Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, told the Journal Triplett was "a part of history".

"You're talking to somebody whose father was in the civil war," he said. "Which is mind-bending."

But to Stephanie McCurry, a historian of the civil war and Reconstruction era at Columbia University in New York, Triplett's death acquired a deeper resonance by occurring in the midst of national civil unrest over the killing by Minneapolis police of George Floyd, an African American man.

"Just like the Confederate monuments issue, which is blowing up right now, I think this is a reminder of the long reach of slavery, secession and the civil war," she told the Washington Post. "It reminds you of the battle over slavery and its legitimacy in the United States."

Each month, Triplett collected $73.13 from the Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA), a total of $877.56 a year. Her father earned the sum by defecting north in 1863 after missing the battle of Gettysburg, the turning point of the war.

"Pvt Triplett enlisted in the 53rd North Carolina Infantry Regiment in May 1862," the Journal reported, citing Confederate records which showed he was then 16.

And Triplett "transferred to the 26th North Carolina Infantry Regiment early the following year", "fell ill as his regiment marched north" then "ran away from the hospital … while his unit suffered devastating losses at Gettysburg".

A deserter, Triplett "made his way to Tennessee and, in 1864, enlisted in … the 3rd North Carolina Mounted Infantry", Kirk's Raiders, which "carried out a campaign of sabotage against Confederate targets".

Mose Triplett was unsurprisingly not popular in post-war North Carolina but eventually, in 1924, still childless, he married a second time. He was nearly 80. His new wife, Elida Hall, was 34. As the Journal put it, "such an age difference wasn't rare, especially during the Great Depression when civil war veterans found themselves with both a pension and a growing need for care."

Triplett and Hall had five children but only two survived: Irene, who like her mother suffered from mental disabilities, and Everette, a son born when Mose Triplett was 87. As the Journal wrote in 2014, "Irene and Everette Triplett were born in tough country during tough times. The forested hills ran with white lightning from illegal stills. Ms Triplett said she didn't drink moonshine, but she got hooked on tobacco in first grade."

"I dipped snuff in school, and I chewed tobacco in school," Triplett said then. "I raised homemade tobacco. I chewed that, too. I chewed it all."

In 1938, aged 92, Mose Triplett attended a reunion at Gettysburg. In his remarks, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt referred to the Gettysburg Address, delivered in November 1863: "Lincoln spoke in solace for all who fought upon this field; and the years have laid their balm upon their wounds. Men who wore the blue and men who wore the gray are here together, a fragment spared by time."

Newsreel footage posted to YouTube by CSPAN tells of "2,500 veterans, north and south", black and white, marking "the 75th anniversary of America's Armageddon".

Housed in the Confederate camp, Triplett reportedly kept quiet about the double service that placed him in rarefied company. The Victorian journalist and explorer Henry Morton Stanley, for example, also fought for both sides.

Related: 'What it means to be an American': Abraham Lincoln and a nation divided

Triplett died shortly afterwards. His gravestone, in Wilkes county, says only: "He was a civil war soldier."

In 1943, Irene and her mother moved to the Wilkes county poor house. In 1960, they moved to a care home. Elida Hall died in 1967. Everette Triplett died in 1996. Irene lived on, her care paid for by Medicaid and the civil war pension.

The Journal reported that though Irene "saw little of her relatives … a pair of civil war buffs visited and sent her money to spend on Dr Pepper and chewing tobacco".

Jamie Phillips, the home's activities director, told the Post Triplett liked gospel music, cream cheese cheeseballs and laughing.

"A lot of people were interested in her story," Phillips said, "but she'd always deflect the conversation to something different going on in the news."


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