A Wilkes County woman recognized as the nation's last Civil War-related military pension recipient died Sunday.
Irene Triplett, 90, died at Accordius Health, a skilled nursing care facility on College Street in Wilkesboro. Funeral arrangements are incomplete, according to Reins-Sturdivant Funeral Home in North Wilkesboro.
Triplett received a survivor’s military pension of about $73 per month from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs due to her father’s service in the Union Army in the last eight months of the Civil War.
Her father was Moses “Mose” Triplett and her mother was Elida “Lydie” Hall Triplett, 83 and 34 respectively when she was born in 1930. He was 78 and she was 28 when they married in 1924.
Moses Triplett’s first wife died a few years earlier. Born near Elk Creek in today’s Triplett community of Watauga County, he started receiving a federal pension for serving in the Union Army around 1890 while living downstream on Elk Creek in southwestern Wilkes.
Triplett was 92 when he died in July 1938, a few days after returning from a reunion of Confederate and Union veterans in Gettysburg, Pa., marking the 75th anniversary of the Civil War battle there.
An article in the July 18, 1938, issue of the Journal-Patriot indicated that it wasn't widely known that Moses Triplett served in the Union Army in the war until the reunion. Records show he enlisted in the Confederate Army in 1862, deserted in 1863 and enlisted in the Union Army in 1864.
The article said, “Uncle” Moses Triplett, who ‘fooled them all’ at the reunion of the men who wore the blue and gray at Gettysburg, passed away last night at his home at Denny, only a few days after attending the joint reunion.”
Triplett was buried in the Hall-Triplett family cemetery at Denny, a community that no longer exists on a straight-away section of what now is Elk Creek-Darby Road. Denny was a stop on a spur of the Watauga & Yadkin Railroad, destroyed by the 1916 flood.
The article continued, “‘Uncle Mose’ as he was known to many people, was one of the most remarkable characters of his community…. He was a member of the Union Army during the War Between the States, but at the Gettysburg reunion this month was placed in the gray tents of the Confederate veterans.
“Even the attendant (Coy Marley) who accompanied the aged man to Gettysburg did not know that he had a Union soldier until Triplett was replying to questions by a reporter in Hickory on the return trip. He had been feeble since his return from the reunion.”
Irene Triplett indicated that her father was a harsh man when she was interviewed for an article in the Journal-Patriot in 2004.
Charlie Triplett, grandson of Moses Triplett, shared a similar view in an interview for a 2014 article in the Wall Street Journal about Irene Triplett being the last Civil War-related pension recipient.
The grandson told the Wall Street Journal that Triplett had a Wyatt Earp mustache and was known for pulling the fangs from rattlesnakes and keeping them as pets. An article in the Chronicle newspaper in Wilkesboro noted that Triplett had a pet rattlesnake, with "its teeth extracted and its mouth partly sewed up."
Charlie Triplett said people were afraid of his grandfather and that he was known for sitting on his porch and shooting walnuts off trees with his old military pistol just to let people know he had a gun.
The late Dixie Hall Edmiston of the Darby community on Elk Creek recalled a Sunday around 1913 when Moses Triplett arrived at Rock Spring Baptist Church in Darby and said he was ready to be baptized. "He always called me cousin because we were somehow related," she said.
Triplett and his family lived in the old Hall family home, which stood near near Laxton's Store and was torn down in the early 1900s. "He had a name for being well off and he had a big old farmhouse," said the late Rev. Van Proffit in 2004, who was raised and lived nearby. Proffit's grandfather, Alfred Newton Proffit, was the only one of four Proffit brothers from the Lewis Fork section of Wilkes who enlisted in the Confederate Army and survived the Civil War.
Proffit said his parents, Bill and Mary Lou Walsh Proffit, and T.E. Story of Wilkesboro, longtime Wilkesboro High School principal and a state legislator, were involved in administering the pension Elida and Irene Triplett received through Moses Triplett's military service.
Proffit, a longtime Baptist preacher, conducted the funeral for Elida Triplett and also for Everette Mose Triplett Sr., born to Moses and Elida Triplett in 1933. Moses Triplett was 87 by then.
When Moses Triplett died, he left a 40-acre farm and home to his wife, daughter and son, but they didn’t fare well. The three moved into the Wilkes County Home (poor house) in North Wilkesboro in the early 1940s. It stood where Gardner Mirror Corp. (now Gardner Glass Products Inc.) was later built on N.C. 268 East.
Pat McNeil of Wilkesboro said his older brother, Clark McNeil, told him that their father, Ed McNeil, helped get the three into the county home when they appeared at the McNeil house in the Ferguson community, desperate for assistance.
Everette Triplett ran away from the county home and eventually was in grading business.
Elida and Irene Triplett moved into Foster-Richardson Rest Home in the Mount Pleasant community after the county home closed in 1960. VA pension checks through Mose Triplett helped pay for their care.
Elida Triplett died in 1967, and was buried with her husband in the Hall-Triplett family cemetery.
Irene Triplett moved into what now is Accordius Health in Wilkesboro about nine years ago. “She was a joy to be around,” said Jamie Phillips, activities director at Accordius. “She was very helpful with the other residents and was kind to the staff…. She was very active and made her own decisions.”
Phillips said Dennis St.Andrews of Cary, commander of the N.C. Department of the Sons of Union Veterans, faithfully visited and corresponded with Triplett for several years. He sent her flowers and money for the chewing tobacco that she enjoyed.
St.Andrews said Triplett didn’t ever talk about her father when he and his wife visited her, which was at least twice a year.
Triplett has relatives in the area, including a niece in Lenoir.
St.Andrews mentioned two other children of Civil War veterans living in North Carolina and said he isn't aware of any others in the state.
The last Civil War veteran living in Wilkes was Richard F. Jarvis, who was in the 54th N.C. Regiment of Confederate Infantry and died in 1943. Jarvis lived just west of Wilkesboro.
Triplett’s military record
Moses Triplett was 16 and living in Wilkes when he enlisted in the Confederate Army (Co. K, 53rd N.C. Infantry) in May 1862. He transferred to Co. C of the 26th N.C. Infantry in 1863. Co. C consisted mostly of Wilkes men, including five other Tripletts.
On the march to the Battle of Gettysburg in June 1863, Triplett fell ill and was sent to a Confederate hospital in Danville, Va. Records show he was present and accounted for until June 26, 1863, when he left the hospital and was listed as a deserter.
His desertion might well have saved his life because over 80% of the men in the 26th N.C. were either killed or wounded about a week later at Gettysburg, the worst losses of any Confederate or Union regiment in the battle.
Triplett and his brother, Darby Triplett, enlisted in the 3rd N.C. Mounted Infantry in August 1864, in Knoxville, Tenn. Darby Triplett and another brother, Franklin Triplett, enlisted in the 37th N.C. Infantry, a Confederate regiment, in 1861.
The inscription on Moses Triplett’s gravestone includes, “He was a Civil War soldier,” but Darby Triplett’s grave in the Triplett community is marked with a military stone that says he served in the 3rd N.C. Mounted Infantry.
About 90 men from Wilkes enlisted in the 3rd N.C. Mounted Infantry, plus men from Watauga, Mitchell and a few other western North Carolina counties. Many were former Confederate soldiers.
Col. George W. Kirk organized the regiment in June 1864. He led the regiment, which came to be known as Kirk’s Raiders for its unconventional tactics, in several engagements in western North Carolina. It assisted Gen. George Stoneman’s forces on a raid through that region in March and April 1865.
Triplett was discharged from the Union Army in the summer of 1865, four months after Gen. Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Court House, Va., in early April 1865.