Irene Triplett: The Last Surviving Civil War Pension Recipient
On Veterans Day, we honor the brave men and women who served in the military as well as the surviving family members of those who gave the ultimate sacrifice. It's our duty and privilege to take care of those survivors---in fact, the United States government is still sending monthly pension checks to the child of a Civil War veteran. That’s right: One child of a soldier who fought in the Civil War is still alive. Her name is Irene Triplett, and her father wore both a blue and a gray uniform during America's bloodiest war. Here is her remarkable story.
The Civil War
The American Civil War started on April 12, 1861 and lasted four horrific years. It was truly a terrible time in American history, with brothers literally fighting brothers. As many as 620,000 soldiers died in the war, while countless others were injured or imprisoned.
So Long Ago ... But Was it?
As schoolchildren, we all learned about the Civil War, but reading about it in our textbooks makes is seem so long ago. It is hard to fathom that a person whose father fought in the Civil War could still be alive today. Let's look at the math to see how it is possible.
Irene Triplett, The Last Civil War Pension Recipient
Irene Triplett, now 89 years old, is the daughter of Mose Triplett, who joined the Confederate Army in 1862. He was just 16 years old. The next 70 years were eventful ones, to be sure, but one of their highlights was his 1924 wedding to his second wife, Elida Hall. At 78, Triplett was half a century older than his bride. Six years later, she bore him a daughter, who was just eight years old when her father died a few days after returning from the 75th anniversary celebration at Gettysburg.
Civil War veteran, Mose Triplett (second from the right), pictured with his family prior to Irene's birth. (aarp.org)
Mose Triplett, Civil War Veteran
Mose Triplett was living in North Carolina in 1862 when he joined a group of men from his town who were enlisting in the Confederate Army. After his unit, the 53rd North Carolina Infantry, marched on Gettysburg, the majority of them fought and died on that hallowed ground. Triplett, however, had fallen ill with a fever prior to reaching Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, leaving him recuperating in an army hospital while his friends fell by the dozen.
Mose Triplett, The Blue And The Gray
During his stay in the hospital, Mose Triplett seemed to have experienced a moral awakening. After he recovered from his illness, he deserted the Confederate Army and joined the Union. He never made it to the Battle of Gettysburg, instead fighting in Tennessee as a member of the 3rd North Carolina Mounted Infantry, a Union regiment. It may seem bizarre, but it actually wasn't uncommon for soldiers to switch sides mid-war during the Civil War.
Mose Triplett's Post-War Years
Mose Triplett was one of the fortunate ones. In the years following the war, he married his first wife, Mary, and raised a family with her in rural North Carolina. Mary Triplett died in 1920, leaving Mose Triplett a widower, but he didn't stay single for long.
The age difference between Triplett and his second wife was not as shocking in the rural 1920s as it may be today. In fact, Mose Triplett was a pillar of the community, so it seemed that Elida Hall had landed a good catch, if a slightly less mobile one. Mose and Elida had five children together, but only two---Irene and her younger brother, Everett---lived into adulthood. Everett has since passed away.
That Monthly Pension Check
Mose Triplett put in enough time with the Union Army to earn a pension, so the government sent him a check for $73.13 every month until his death in 1938 at the age of 92. After that, the pension check went to his widow, Elida, and upon her death, to his only surviving child, Irene. To this day, Irene receives a pension check from government for her father's service---and yes, the amount of each check is still $73.13. When the 89-year-old Irene dies, the government will officially stop issuing pension checks for the Civil War, which ended 154 years ago.
Until Recently, Irene Triplett Had Company
While it is remarkable that a child of a Civil War veteran is still alive, she wasn't even the only one until very recently. Not even a full year ago, in December 2018, 97-year-old Fred Upham died. Upham's father, William, was a private in the Union Army's 2nd Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry. Though he was just 20 years old when the war broke out, he became a celebrated soldier who was injured in the First Battle of Bull Run.
William Upham And Abraham Lincoln
William Upham twice had the opportunity to meet with President Abraham Lincoln, who was so impressed that he personally appointed Upham to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. As a child, Fred Upham heard plenty of Civil War stories from his father, who later served as the governor of Wisconsin, including tales of his time as a prisoner of war in the infamous Libby Prison.
Upham's Second Marriage
Fred Upham was also the product of his father's second marriage late in life. At the age of 73, many years after his first wife's death, William Upham was taking a voyage up the Atlantic coast when he had to seek shelter from a storm in the harbor of Beaufort, North Carolina. It was there that he met Grace Mason, a much younger woman who would become his second wife and the mother of two of his children, including Fred Upham.
Sharing Their Stories
In 2014, Fred Upham joined Iris Lee Gay Jordan, another child of a Civil War veteran, for a National Geographic event called A Sketch in Time: Bringing the Civil War to Life. Jordan, who passed away in 2017, and Upham were interviewed on-camera as they shared the stories they heard from their fathers about life during the Civil War, adding valuable firsthand accounts of America's bloodiest days to the history textbooks.
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