Anonymous, “‘Captain’ Sally Tompkins,” Confederate Veteran, Volume 16 (1908), p. 72


Miss Sally Louisa Tompkins, of Mathews County, Va., a daughter of Col. Christopher Tompkins (deceased) and Maria Booth Patterson, enjoys the distinction of being the only woman who was an “officer in the Confederate States army.” During the four fiery years of Southern trial this pure, saintly, and heroic young patriot displayed throughout as undaunted heroism, as devoted zeal, as steadfast loyalty ill behalf of the storm-cradled nation that sleeps as the world’s civilization can boast. In recognition of her inestimable service rendered the sick and wounded of the South, for whose benefit she exhausted her once munificent patrimony, in the year 1863 she was regularly commissioned a captain of cavalry in the Confederate army. Verily there were many who called her blessed.

Immediately after the first battle of Manassas the Confederate government called upon the citizens of Richmond, Va., to care for the sick and wounded returning from that memorable engagement. And on July 31, 1861, just ten days succeeding that battle, Miss Tompkins, entirely at her own expense, opened for their benefit (corner of Main and Third Streets) the “Robertson Hospital,” which continued uninterruptedly its mission of mercy until July 13, 1865. It was the only private hospital that survived the conflict there. During that time 1,390 of the sons of Dixie’s land were tenderly nursed and cared for. At one time an order was issued for the closing of all private hospitals and the removal of all the soldiers to public hospitals, the intent of the Confederate government being to reduce the number of hospitals and correspondingly increase their efficiency. Indeed, it was feared that some hospitals were harboring men more battle-scared than battle-scarred. Before the order could be executed, however, even while ambulances were in waiting at the door, “Captain Sally” strenuously insisted that the register of her hospital should first be exhibited before President Davis, wherein were accurately shown the number of patients received, the death rate (miraculously low), and the phenomenally large percentage of those returned to duty. These facts induced President Davis to revoke the order, in so far as it applied to the “Robertson Hospital.”

For their long-continued, self-sacrificing assistance in her hospital work “Captain Sally” was especially indebted to Mesdames Elizabeth Semmes, James Alfred Jones, Mary Randolph Page, Ellen Tompkins Bowen, William Grant, John Peyton McGuire, and Misses Randolph Tabb, Elizabeth Davenport, Rebecca Churchill Jones, and Augusta Tabb. Mrs. Dr. John Spotswood Welford loaned her an efficient servant, “Sally,” who acted as hospital cook, and Benjamin Ficklen, Esq., and Captain Snaden, who acted as blockade runners, furnished innumerable supplies of value, including chests of tea, sacks of coffee, and money. Attached to the hospital were four slaves belonging to “Captain Sally:” Betsey Curtis and Betsey Ashberry (known by the soldiers to whom they tenderly ministered as “Sad Betsey” and “Glad Betsey,” respectively) and Peter Smith and Churchill. Smith. Peter Smith finally ran off. Upon his return, after the close of hostilities, he was profuse in his apologies to Miss Sally, assuring her that his sole reason for leaving was that he knew the slaves would be set free and he didn’t want her to lose him.

Among the soldiers desperately wounded but who eventually recovered was one from North Carolina, who, with his eight brothers, had enlisted at the beginning of the conflict; seven of those had already nobly yielded up their bodies to their country, their souls to their God. A purse was quickly made up and the aged mother sent for to come and see her suffering boy. On arriving she calmly yet proudly declared that had she nine other sons she would gladly also give them up to battle for the cause. On one occasion two North Carolinians occupied the same ward, each ill with typhoid fever. In his delirium one struck the nurse as she attempted to administer his medicine, whereupon the other sprang from his cot, declaring with true Southern gallantry: “No man shall ever strike a woman in my presence.”

It has well been said that if we seek a lofty ideal and a noble model on which to shape a well-rounded and perfect womanhood, combining the pure patriotism, the rugged virtues, the winning modesty, and the tender graces of Spartan mother, Roman dame, and Carthagenian maid, we have but to take a retrospective glance down the corridors of memory for about four decades to find it in that heroic sisterhood of martyrs and patriots, the women of the Confederacy.

“We should love to teach our children
Of our heroes who are dead,
Of the battle scars they carried,
Marching to a soldier’s tread.

Of their loyal hearts so tender,
All aglow in Truth’s array,
And the many recollections
Of the boys who wore the Gray.

And so long as Time speeds onward
And there is a heaven of love
God shall watch our silent sentinels
Sleeping from the world above.

And he’ll guard the sacred memory
Of the old Confederate Gray
Throughout Time’s eternal pages
When the last one’s passed away.”

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