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9 September 2010

On this day in history: Only woman officer in the Confederate States Army, 1861

In July 1861, the first major engagement of the American Civil War took place. The First Battle of Bull Run (a.k.a. the First Battle of Manassas) resulted in a flood of wounded soldiers into Richmond, Virginia. The existing hospitals were soon full and the Confederate government called upon the public for assistance.

Sally Louisa Tompkins (1833-1916) was one of those who responded, organising and raising funds for a hospital in a house donated by Judge John Robertson on the corner of Main and Third. The Robertson Hospital opened on 31st July 1861 and discharged its last patients on 13th June 1865. Of the 1,333 soldiers who received treatment at the Robertson Hospital only seventy-three died, the lowest mortality rate of any hospital during the conflict.

This high quality of care saved the hospital when President Jefferson Davis ordered that all private hospitals be closed in order to end the charging of excessive fees by some private hospitals. Tompkins made a personal plea to the President, who decided to offer her a commission effectively placing the hospital under military control. Consequently, on 9th September 1861, she became a captain of cavalry (unassigned), although, she chose not to take a salary.

After her death in 1916, Captain Tompkins was buried with full military honours at Christ Church in Mathews County and a monument placed over her final resting place.

To learn more about Sally Tompkins visit Ron Maggiano's web pages at the George Mason University site.

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