The Last US Civil War Pension

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On May 31, 2020, Irene Triplett passed away at the age of 90. Her life was rather unremarkable save for one important fact: she was the last person who received a pension from the United States government from the US Civil War.

Find out how a woman who died two decades into the 21st Century was still receiving a pension from a war which ended 155 years ago on this episode of Everything Everywhere Daily. 

Irene Triplet was born in 1930 in Wilkes County, North Carolina, 65 years after the end of the US Civil War. 

How she ended up receiving a Civil War pension is one of those stories that you wouldn’t believe if it wasn’t true, but when you do the math it actually works out.

Her father was Mose Triplett, who was a veteral of the Civil War. He had the distinction of having fought for both the Confederacy and the Union. He was a member of the 53rd North Carolina Infantry who fought in the Battle of Gettysburg. On the way to Gettysburg, Moes fell ill and was hospitalized. That illness probably saved his life because most of his unit was killed or wounded during the battle.

After he recovered, he deserted the Confederates and joined up with the 3rd North Carolina Mounted Infantry which fought for the Union. The unit was known as “Kirk’s Raiders” after commander Colonel George Washington Kirk.

After the war, Moes returned to North Carolina, got married and started a family. His wife Mary passed away in 1920. 

As with many older civil war veterans, they would often take younger second wives, especially during the Great Depression, as their pension was considered a source of stable income.

In 1924 at the age of 78, Moes married his second wife Elida, who was 29 years old. Moes and Elida had 5 children. One of them, Irene, was born in 1930 when Mose was 83. 

Irene was just 8 years old when her father died at the age of 92 after returning home from a Civil War veterans reunion. 

Irene had a cognitive disability which made her eligible to continue receiving her father’s Civil War pension after his death as “the helpless child of a veteran”. 

She received her father’s pension of $73.13 every month from her father’s death in 1938 to her death in 2020. 

The amount was never adjusted for inflation the entire time. It is estimated she received approximately $73,000 over the course of her life. 

In addition to having received the last Civil War pension, she was also the last child of a Civil War veteran.

The second to last child of a Civil War veteran also had an interesting story. In 2018 Fred Upham passed away at the age of 97. His father was William H. Upham who was a Civil War veteran, and the former Governor of the State of Wisconsin who was elected in 1894! 

Because of the occurrence of young women marrying much older men with pensions, the passing of the last Civil War widow wasn’t that long ago either. In 2008, Maudie Hopkins died at the age of 93. In 1934 at the age of 19, she married  86 year old William Cantrell who served as a 16 year old soldier in the Confederate Army. 

The last Union widow was Gertrude Janeway who passed away in 2003. 

The last surviving documented veteran of the Civil War was Albert Woolson who died at the age of 106 in 1956. He was a 14 year old drummer boy in the 1st Minnesota Heavy Artillery Regiment.

In 1956 there was an episode of the TV Game Show I’ve Got a Secret with a 95 year old man named Samuel Seymour. The panelists had to guess what the guests’ secret was. 

Samuel Seymour was the last surviving witness to Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. He was a 5 year old boy who was taken to Ford’s Theater and sat in the balcony across the theater from the president. There is a clip of this appearance available on YouTube.

The last surviving person who was born as a slave in the United States was Peter Mills who died in 1972. He was born into slavery in 1861 and lived to be 110. One person was both born into bondage, and lived to see the moon landing.  

The last surviving veteran of the Revolutionary War was John Gray who died in 1868 at the age of 104. He is one of the only people who lived to see both the Revolution and the Civil War. Oddly enough, he was born on George Washington’s estate at Mount Vernon and his father died in the war.

The last surviving veteran of Napoleon’s forces was a Polish man, Vincent Markiewicz, who died at 108 in 1903. 

The last veteran of the War of 1812 was Hiram Cronk who passed away in 1905 at the age of 105.

In 2011, at the age of 110, American Frank Buckles was the last surviving veteran of WWI in the world to pass away. 

Demographers estimate that the last veteran of World War II will pass away sometime around the year 2044. It will probably be someone who fought at a very young age, and lives to be at least 110.

It is amazing how the lives of some people can span such incredible lengths of time, and how we can have lives which overlap them. We think of the Civil War as being a long time ago, yet we are only 2 or 3 generations removed from people who lived through those events.