The Last Civil War Checks

The American Civil War was a low point for the nation, dividing the loyalty of states, of communities, and in many cases, even of families. There are even a few cases of individual soldiers who couldn’t decide which side of the war to fight for. Take, for example, the case of Pvt. Mose Triplett. Born on February 4, 1846, he enlisted with the Confederacy — but by 1862, the then-16-year-old thought better of it. As the two sides approached Gettysburg, Private Triplett deserted and joined up with the Union, serving in North Carolina’s mounted infantry from October 1864 until the war came to an end the following spring.

That part of Triplett’s story isn’t unique. But what he did afterward is. And it’s why every month, the United States Treasury finds itself about four score minus seven dollars lighter than it would otherwise.

Why’s that? Because as of 2017, the government is still paying out Triplett’s war pension.

Triplett lived a long life after the war — he’d pass away in 1938 at the age of 92 years old — and he outlived his first wife, Mary, who died in the 1920s. The couple never had any children and given that Triplett himself was in his seventies, he seemed unlikely to have any. But in 1924, Triplett, then in his mid-80s, married a woman named Elida Hall, who according to the Wall Street Journal was “nearly 50 years his junior” and “was mentally disabled, according to people who knew her.”

Triplett and the former Ms. Hall had five children, three of whom died in their infancy. The two surviving children were Irene, born in 1930, and Everette, born in 1934. Elida passed away in 1967; Everette in 1996. That left just Irene, who according to 38 U.S.C. 1533, was entitled to her father’s war pension. Under that statute, Irene Triplett was due $73.13 every single month for the rest of her life — even though the Civil War ended more than 150 years ago.

And yes, that amount is still getting paid, as of 2017. U.S. News and World Report confirmed that with the Department of Veterans Affairs, that Triplett is still alive. The VA spokesperson also explained that they’ll make payments as long as she’s with us, stating that the “VA has an obligation to take care of our nation’s veterans no matter how long. It is an honor to serve and care for those who served our country.” That may an overstatement, though; $73.13 a month is not a lot of money, but that’s all she gets. The statue doesn’t require that the amount is adjusted for inflation.

Bonus fact: Irene’s mother wasn’t the last surviving spouse of a Civil War veteran. That distinction went to a woman named Gertrude Janeway (nee Grubb) who was born in July of 1909, nearly fifty years after the war ended. She married John Janeway, a Union cavalry officer, in 1927 — she was 18 years old, him 81. From that point on and for the rest of her days, Gertrude collected $70 check each month. She passed away in 2003 at the age of 96.

From the Archives: McLeaned Him Out: Where the Civil War coincidentally ended.