On Sunday May 31, Irene Triplett, the last person receiving a pension from the U.S. Civil War, died at the age of 90 following complications from surgery, according to the Wilkesboro, North Carolina nursing facility where Triplett lived.
Before her death Triplett continued to receive $73.13 a month from the Department of Veterans Affairs—nearly 155 years after the bullets stopped.
Triplett’s father, Private Mose (sometimes written as “Moses”), holds the distinction of fighting for both the Confederacy and the Union. At the age of 16, Mose enlisted as a Confederate soldier in the 53rd North Carolina Infantry in May 1862, before transferring to the 26th North Carolina Infantry Regiment. As his regiment marched through Virginia prior to the Gettysburg campaign, Mose fell ill and remained in a military hospital for the duration of the battle. He was one of the few who survived unscathed.
Records show that of the 800 men in the 26th North Carolina Infantry Regiment, 734 were wounded, captured, or killed. Mose deserted shortly after.
“In addition to the novelty of this news, Triplett’s pension illustrates the very complex nature of the Civil War due to the fact that her father changed horses in the middle of the stream, so to speak. Not every Southerner supported the Confederacy, as this bears out,” said Dana B. Shoaf, Editor of Civil War Times magazine.
In 1864, Private Mose managed to link up with the Union army in Tennessee and enlisted in the 3rd North Carolina Mounted Infantry, known as Kirk’s Rangers—named after Tennessee-born commander Col. George Washington Kirk. As a Ranger, Mose participated in acts of sabotage against Confederate targets in eastern Tennessee and western North Carolina, The Wall Street Journal reports.
At the war’s conclusion Mose resided near Elk Creek, in Wilkes County, North Carolina with his first wife, Mary. There, Mose gained a reputation for being obdurate and ornery. “A lot of people were afraid of him,” Charlie Triplett, Mose’s grandson told the Journal in 2014. “Most of the time he sat on the front porch with his old military pistol and shot walnuts off the trees just to let people know he had a gun.”
In 1924, after the passing of his first wife several years prior, the then 77-year-old Mose married Elida Hall, a woman 49 years his junior. Despite the large age gap, such marriages weren’t uncommon, with young women seeking financial protection and aging veterans seeking care.
Born in 1930, both Irene and her mother suffered from mental disabilities, with Irene recalling a tough upbringing full of beatings both at home and at school.
“I didn’t care for neither one of them, to tell you the truth about it,” she told the 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.”
In 1938, days after attending the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg in which President Franklin D. Roosevelt was in attendance, the 92-year-old Mose died of cancer.
Unable to support her family, Elida and Irene moved into the Wilkes County Poorhouse. Irene’s younger brother, Charlie, ran away shortly after rather than live in the county home. The two women would remain there for 17 years until the facility shut down in 1960, and eventually settled down in a private nursing home paid in part by Mose’s small VA pension.
Moving through several care homes throughout her life, in her later years Triplett remained in the Wilkesboro skilled-nursing facility until her death.
Despite Triplett’s passing on Sunday, her life remains a reminder of the continuation of President Abraham Lincoln’s promise “to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan.”
“She’s a part of history,” Dennis St. Andrew, a past commander of the North Carolina Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, told the Journal. “You’re talking to somebody whose father was in the Civil War, which is mind-bending.”