Jun 12, 2020

History Alive

June 12, 2020

You may have seen an article by Ian Shapiro in The Washington Post  online last week describing the death of the last Civil War Pensioner, Irene Triplett. Irene’s death, at age 90, marked the close of the pension books for the Civil War – 155 years after the war’s conclusion. Although it seems difficult to imagine, until last week Irene was still drawing seventy some dollars a month as a pension for her father’s service in the Civil War.


Upon hearing a story such as Irene’s it’s initially hard to wrap your mind around the thought of someone who was alive until last week having known someone who fought in the Civil War. For most of us the Civil War is history; if we have an ancestor who fought in that war he is probably at least a second great grandfather or even a third great grandfather, which is obviously much more distant than a father. But, up until the early years of the 21st century, such a scenario wasn’t that rare. In virtually all cases, it involved the marriage of a much older man to a younger, child-bearing aged woman. Some of the older men fathered children when they were well past their eightieth birthday.


The circumstances surrounding Irene’s case are somewhat unusual in that she received a pension, which wasn’t all that common for children of soldiers, but, in Irene’s case was because she was classified as cognitively impaired and so qualified for a life-long pension. While she was the last Civil War Pensioner and perhaps even the last surviving child of a Civil War veteran, until very recently she was not alone in claiming a father who served in that war.


Surprisingly, one such child of a Civil War veteran lived right here in Fort Collins until his death a year and a half ago, in December of 2018, at the age of 97. Frederick “Fritz” Upham was the son of William H. Upham who died in 1924, when young Fritz was only three years old. Fritz’s father was 80 years old when Fritz was born; his mother was nearly 50 years younger.


According to an article in the Coloradoan, published in 2014, William H. Upham served from Wisconsin in the Union Army. He was severely wounded at the First Battle of Bull Run and was captured and taken to a Confederate prison, where he recovered from his wounds. Eventually he was returned to Washington D.C. in a prisoner exchange. One of the serving Wisconsin senators arranged for him to visit Abraham Lincoln in the White House. So, not only did we have a son of a Civil War veteran right here in Fort Collins, but also someone whose father had met and talked with Abraham Lincoln!


Those of us who live in this area could have passed Fritz Upham at the grocery store or sat next to him at a meeting and never realized what a piece of American history that he represented. While it appears that all of the children of Civil War veterans have now passed away, there are apparently still a number of spouses and children who are still drawing pensions that their husbands or fathers earned in the Spanish American War, and even more who are drawing pensions that their husbands or fathers earned in later conflicts like World War I and World War II. There are probably even more survivors of veterans who never got a pension or who didn’t qualify for a survivor’s pension, as well. It’s amazing to think that we might be brushing up against history that we think is long dead but is still alive in the persons of these survivors of veterans of America’s long-gone wars. It seems that history lives on much longer than we think.


Carol Stetser

Researcher/Director at Large