Hospital Administrator in RichmondSallie Tompkins was born in Mathews County, Virginia, in 1833, to a family of wealth and rich military history, dating back to the American Revolution. Her grandfather had served under General George Washington.
When the Civil War began, she was 28 years old and living at the Arlington House in Richmond with her mother and sister. She was petite, less than five feet tall. She was not a pretty woman, but she had an impressive presence.
Richmond was a town of 37,000 people, but there were few hospitals. The Confederacy had no health care system, so its citizens had to step forward to care for the Rebel wounded. Warehouses and temporary shelters were not enough.
In the days after First Bull Run, thousands of wounded soldiers were transported to Richmond. A judge, John Robertson, and his family were moving to the country, and he offered his large townhouse to Sallie.
Ten short days later, she opened the Robertson Hospital to care for wounded soldiers from the battlefields. The Confederate government assigned six surgeons to her staff. She carried her mother's cook to run the kitchen. Civilians donated bandages and linen. Women who could not stomach working directly with the wounded rolled bandages at home. Some people donated food. Sallie supplied everything else with her own money.
She worked tirelessly, and always carried a Bible on her rounds, ready to offer a verse reading or a kind word to an injured and troubled soldier. She was very strict about cleanliness in her hospital, which surely saved many lives. It was not until after the war that scientists discovered the cause of infection.
Other hospitals charged outrageous fees for the soldiers' care, which led the Confederate authorities to close all private hospitals. The wounded could only be cared for at government hospitals run by a commissioned officer with at least a rank of captain.
While ambulances waited to transport her patients to a government facility, Sallie ran to see Confederate President Jefferson Davis. She begged him not to take "her boys." She was commissioned a Captain of Cavalry in the Rebel army, and her hospital was allowed to remain open. As an officer, she could draw army rations for her patients, but she wouldn’t allow her name to be added to the payroll.
Her fellow women of Richmond volunteered their time and that of their slaves. Affluent women brought gifts and medicines for the men. Captain Sallie kept her hospital in operation until June of 1865. Her records showed that only 73 of 1,333 soldiers died in her care.
Two chapters of the Daughters of the Confederacy were named in her honor. Whenever she appeared before one of their conventions, the entire audience stood to applaud her. She always attended gatherings of Confederate Veterans who were her former patients.
Her family’s fortune had been lost in the war, like so many Southerners. Eventually, she went to live at the Home for Confederate Women in Richmond. The only female officer of the Confederate army was buried in 1916, with full military honors.