The American Civil War ended more than a century and a half ago. But the last person to receive a pension tied to the conflict passed away only recently.
Irene Triplett died in a nursing home in Wilkesboro, North Carolina, on 31 May this year, aged 90. She had received a monthly cheque for $73.13 (roughly £58) from the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Her cognitive impairments had qualified her as a ‘helpless adult child of a veteran’.
Her father Mose enlisted on the Confederate side in 1862, aged just 16. He later fell ill and defected to the Union Army shortly before the Battle of Gettysburg.
The war broke out in 1861 when several southern American states seceded from the Union to defend slavery. The Confederate States were defeated by the Union in 1865. Slavery was abolished, but a system of racial segregation persisted in the South for another century.
Long after the war, in 1924, Mose married Elida Hall, his second wife and Irene’s mother. He was nearly 50 years older than his wife, which meant he was 83 when Irene was born in 1930, in the throes of the Great Depression.
Mose died in 1938 and Elida, who also suffered from cognitive disabilities, died in 1943. Irene lived out the rest of her life in a succession of nursing homes.
Despite rarely giving interviews, Irene once told The Washington Post of her dislike of her parents and the hardship of her upbringing in the aftermath of the Wall Street Crash. ‘I wanted to get away from both of them,’ she said. ‘I wanted to get me a house and crawl in it all by myself.’
Triplett was not the only American citizen to receive benefits tied to service in 19th-century wars. According to the VA, 33 surviving spouses and 18 children continue to receive benefits following the Spanish-American War of 1898.
The last veteran of the Civil War died in 1956, aged 109, while the last widow died in 2008, at the age of 93. Irene was unmarried and had no children.
This article was published in the August/September 2020 issue of Military History Matters. To find out more about the magazine and how to subscribe, click here.