Last Person to Receive a Civil War-Era Pension Dies
Irene Triplett, the last person receiving a pension from the U.S. Civil War, has died at the age of 90.
Ms. Triplett’s father, Mose Triplett, started fighting in the war for the Confederacy, but defected to the North in 1863. That decision earned his daughter Irene, the product of a late-in-life marriage to a woman almost 50 years his junior, a pension of $73.13 a month from the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Ms. Triplett, who suffered from mental disabilities, qualified for federal financial support as a helpless ((CQ)) adult child of a veteran. She died Sunday from complications following surgery for injuries from a fall, according to the Wilkesboro, N.C., nursing home where she lived.
The Triplett family was the subject of a Page One article in The Wall Street Journal in 2014.
Pvt. Triplett enlisted in the 53rd North Carolina Infantry Regiment in May 1862, then transferred to the 26th North Carolina Infantry Regiment early the following year, according to Confederate records. He fell ill as his regiment marched north toward Gettysburg and remained behind in a Virginia military hospital.
He ran away from the hospital, records show, while his unit suffered devastating losses at Gettysburg. Of the 800 men in the 26th North Carolina, 734 were killed, wounded or captured in the battle Pvt. Triplett missed.
Now a deserter, he made his way to Tennessee and, in 1864, enlisted in a Union regiment, the 3rd North Carolina Mounted Infantry. Known as Kirk’s Raiders, the 3rd North Carolina carried out a campaign of sabotage against Confederate targets in eastern Tennessee and western North Carolina. The unit was named after Tennessee-born commander Col. George Washington Kirk.
After the war, former Kirk’s Raiders were despised in areas of the former Confederacy. Pvt. Triplett, by then a civilian with a reputation for orneriness, kept pet rattlesnakes at his home near Elk Creek, N.C. He often sat on his front porch with a pistol on his lap.
“A lot of people were afraid of him,” his grandson, Charlie Triplett, told The Wall Street Journal.
Pvt. Triplett married Elida Hall in 1924. She was 34 when Irene was born in 1930; he was 83. Such an age difference wasn’t rare, especially later, during the Great Depression, when Civil War veterans found themselves with both a pension and a growing need for care.
Both mother and daughter suffered from mental disabilities. Irene Triplett recalled a tough childhood in the North Carolina mountains, beaten by teachers at school and parents at home.
“I didn’t care for neither one of them, to tell you the truth about it,” she told The Wall Street Journal in 2014. “I wanted to get away from both of them. I wanted to get me a house and crawl in it all by myself.”
Pvt. Triplett died in 1938 at age 92, days after attending a reunion of Civil War veterans, attended by President Franklin Roosevelt, on the fields of Gettysburg.
Ms. Triplett and her mother lived for years in the Wilkes County poorhouse. Irene later moved through a number of care homes, her costs covered by Medicaid and her tiny VA pension.
She saw little of her relatives. But a pair of Civil War buffs visited and sent her money to spend on Dr Pepper and chewing tobacco, a habit she picked up in the first grade.
“She’s a part of history,” said Dennis St. Andrew, one of Irene’s supporters and a past commander of the North Carolina Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War. “You’re talking to somebody whose father was in the Civil War, which is mind-bending.”
The number of what the group calls true sons and daughters of Civil War soldiers is fast heading toward zero. Mr. St. Andrew expects that as word spreads of Ms. Triplett’s death, the Sons of Union Veterans will, as is customary, declare a 30-day mourning period. Members will wear a black band on their membership badges.