The final Civil War pension — $73.13 — passes into history
N.C. woman dies at 90; dad fought for North and South
The check arrived every month: $73.13. Irene Triplett, who lived in a North Carolina nursing home, rarely talked about the source of the money.
In fact, she was the final American to receive a pension from the Civil War — $877.56 a year from the Department of Veterans Affairs.
The jaw-dropping fact that someone in the year 2020 was still earning a Civil War pension was the result of two factors.
First, Triplett suffered cognitive impairments, qualifying her for the lifelong pension as a helpless adult child of a veteran.
Second, her father, Mose Triplett, who had served as a private in the Confederate army before defecting to the Union, was on his second marriage when she was born in 1930. He was a few weeks shy of turning 84.
On May 31, Irene Triplett died at Accordius Health, a long-term care facility in Wilkesboro, N.C., at age 90. A relative said she broke her hip a few days earlier and died of complications. She never married, and her only brother died in 1996.
Triplett’s story is a powerful reminder that the Civil War wasn’t all that long ago, said Columbia University historian Stephanie McCurry.
“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,” she said.
“It reminds you of the battle over slavery and its legitimacy in the United States.”
Many more widows and children of other long-ago soldiers are still alive. According to the VA, there are 33 surviving spouses and 18 children receiving pension benefits related to the 1898 Spanish-American War.
Triplett’s status as a
Civil War pensioner began gaining attention in 2011, when the Wilkes Genealogical Society in Wilkes County, N.C., displayed her photograph on its quarterly publication and featured her in a story. The article noted she was one of only two people in the country still receiving a Civil War pension.
One of the piece’s researchers, Jerry Orton of Syracuse, N.Y., a member of the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, first discovered that Triplett was earning the benefit at some point in the late 1980s, after he had embarked on a research project on surviving widows and children of Civil War soldiers. He had gotten her name from the Veterans Administration.
Eventually, he traveled to North Carolina and interviewed her.
“Irene could not recall much of her childhood and has no recollection of
Mose,” the genealogical society’s article said. “She has virtually no memories of fun, presents, friends, neighbors or such as they lived so isolated, and she had to work on the farm each day where they primarily raised chicken[s] and kept some hogs and cows as well.”
In 2013, an Associated Press story reported that more than $40 billion a year was being spent to compensate veterans and survivors from the Spanish-American War, World War I and II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Iraq war and the Afghanistan war.
The AP added this juicy nugget: “The Civil War
shift course. He came to golf later in life, but he said he and Davis — a retired Virginia Commonwealth University professor of health and physical education — “never met a sport we didn’t like.”
Once the quarantine took effect, Fuller signed up for video golf lessons in hopes of improving his swing. Practice-swinging in his apartment was fine, but after a while, he determined that “I need a ball to go somewhere.”
So he went outside to knock some of the plastic golf balls around, first asking the WC landscaping crew if it would be
OK. Not a problem, he was told.
One thing led to another, which led to asking
“I’ve been told we’re good entertainment,” said Bob Davis (left, with Sam Fuller). A round takes less than an hour, and Davis frequently designs a new course layout.
permission to set up a course.
And here they are. Once or twice a week, depending on the weather, a group of no more than 10 play — they adhere to rules prohibiting large gatherings — all the while keeping the proper distance between
one another. Other residents watch from nearby walkways or the comfort of rocking chairs.
“I’ve been told we’re good entertainment,” said Davis, who designs a new course layout every round, just to keep things interesting. The longest holes are maybe 25 yards in length. The golfers play a round in less than an hour.
The wild card, of course, is the wind. The almost weightless balls seem to fly forever if players are hitting with the wind at their backs. Against the wind, though, players can take a mighty swing and the ball goes up and drops straight down.
In the scheme of things, it really doesn’t matter. The group doesn’t keep score — and their weekly Belmont outings before all of this were similarly laid-back.
“The idea is just to have fun,” said Davis, adding with a laugh: “All of us figure this is going to ruin our golf games completely. But we still play. What else are you going to do?”
Irene Triplett is shown in 2018 at a long-term care facility in North Carolina. She was born in 1930 to a father who was nearly 84 at the time.