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The Last Person to Receive a Civil War Pension Dies at Age 90

Irene Triplett, whose father defected from the Confederate Army and enlisted with the Union, collected $73.13 a month

Irene Triplett's father, Mose, ran away from a Confederate military hospital days before the July 1863 Battle of Gettysburg. (Photo by DeAgostini / Getty Images)
smithsonianmag.com

As protests against systemic racism and police brutality continue, Confederate monuments across the nation have been defaced with spray paint, toppled by crowds and even officially removed.

The weathered, oxidized surfaces of these monuments seemingly suggest that the battle over slavery is a distant chapter in American history. But until May 31, the United States government was still paying out a Civil War pension, reports Michael M. Phillips for the Wall Street Journal.

Irene Triplett, who died last month at the age of 90, received a check for $73.13 every month. Her father, Mose Triplett, served as a private in the Confederate Army before deserting and shifting his allegiances to the Union, according to Ian Shapira of the Washington Post.

Mose’s defection likely saved his life, reports Blake Stilwell for Military.com: He decided to switch sides after falling ill shortly before the Battle of Gettysburg, a July 1863 clash in which 92 percent of his former unit perished.

Triplett died in Wilkesboro, North Carolina, of complications from a broken hip, a relative tells the Post. She suffered from cognitive impairments that qualified her for a pension as the helpless child of a veteran, per the Journal.

“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,” Stephanie McCurry, a historian at Columbia University, tells the Post. “It reminds you of the battle over slavery and its legitimacy in the United States.”

The fact that Triplett was receiving a Civil War pension in 2020 owed much to the advanced age of her father, who was 83 when his second wife, 34-year-old Elida Hall, gave birth to their daughter in 1930. Such pairings were fairly common during the Great Depression, as Civil War veterans’ pensions offered financial security to younger women willing to take care of aging husbands, according to the Journal. Mose died in 1938 at age 92, reported Curt Mills for U.S. News & World Report in 2016. Elida died in 1967.

Mose enlisted in the Confederate Army in 1862, serving in the 53rd North Carolina Infantry Regiment before transferring to the 26th North Carolina Infantry Regiment, according to the Journal. As his regiment marched through the Shenandoah River Valley to Gettysburg, Mose came down with a fever and was admitted to the hospital. He ran away from the infirmary just days before 734 of the 800 men in his unit were killed, wounded or captured in battle.

In 1864, Mose joined the Union Army’s 3rd North Carolina Mounted Infantry, nicknamed “Kirk’s Raiders” after commander Colonel George Washington Kirk.

Living in North Carolina after the war proved tenuous for Mose, as locals who still harbored fondness for the Confederacy “despised” all former Kirk’s Raiders, reports the Journal. Perhaps in response to this animosity, Mose kept pet rattlesnakes and often sat on the porch with a pistol resting in his lap.

In a 2014 story for the Journal, Phillips wrote that Triplett had a difficult childhood. She was beaten by both her teachers and parents; at school, peers teased her for being the daughter of a “traitor,” a relative recalled.

After her mother died in 1967, Triplett lived in a series of nursing homes. She made friends, chewed tobacco, and became known for her laughter and buoyant demeanor, reports the Post.

The last two veterans of the Civil War died in the 1950s at more than 100 years old, according to U.S. News. The last Confederate widow, Maudie Hopkins, died in 2008 at age 93, while the last Union widow, Gertrude Janeway, died in 2003 at age 93.

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