Taylor, Mrs. Fielding Lewis, “Capt. Sallie Tompkins,” Confederate Veteran, Volume 24 (1916), p. 521-524


Miss Sallie Louisa Tompkins, who died in Richmond, Va., on July 26, 1916, at the age of eighty-three years, was the only woman who received a commission in the army of the Confederacy. The service she rendered made her one of the most striking heroines of the South during the war period. The keynote of her life was sounded when the guns of the invading army sent sudden death and suffering among the heroes of the Southern Confederacy. While many other Southern women, perhaps all, felt as she did, few had the power of organization, fortitude, physical endurance; and the ample means it was her delight to give.

Just after the battle of First Manassas the Confederate government issued an appeal to the people of Richmond to open their homes to the wounded, as there were not hospitals sufficient to care for them. Possessed of ample means and a big heart, Miss Sallie Tompkins was among the first to respond; and at her own expense she fitted up the old home of judge John Robinson, which had been placed at her disposal. This became the famous Robinson Hospital, where so many sick and wounded Confederate soldiers received the tender ministrations of the “little lady with the milk-white hands,” as she was affectionately referred to. The wealth and beauty and fashion of the city gathered at this hospital every day and gave themselves to the task of relieving the suffering; but to Miss Sallie fell the harder part of directing the work and providing the necessary' nourishment and medicines. With her medicine chest strapped to her side and her Bible in her hands, she flitted from duty to duty, ever ready to ease pain or to relieve a distressed soul. It was noted by the authorities that a larger number of patients were returned from her hospital than from any other; so they sent her then the most desperate cases, hoping she might save where others failed. From the time of opening her hospital until June 10, 1865, she labored early and late, and thirteen hundred men were returned to the field by her, ready again to fight or die for their country. The wounded begged to be taken to Miss Tompkins's hospital “if possible”; and while it was always crowded to the limit, her great heart sent forth the message: “My hospital can never be too crowded to hold a Mathews or a Gloucester County soldier.” When the order went out for all private hospitals to be closed, President Davis gave her a regular captain's commission in recognition of her services so she might issue orders and draw rations to add to her own liberality, which had almost exhausted her once large fortune.

On a visit to Johns Hopkins Hospital sometime after the war Miss Tompkins was treated with great distinction and asked to examine their record of typhoid fever patients, which she found showed a higher percentage of death than hers. To the inquiry as to what medicines she used she replied: “We had nothing but whisky and turpentine.” To this could have been added, “the best nursing and perfect cleanliness.”

After the dark days of war and her soldiers had returned to their homes, the romance of her life came in the many offers of marriage from men of all ranks in the army, too many offers even to be answered. Miss Sallie would smile gently and say: “Poor fellows, they are not yet well of their fevers.” She had not the remarkable beauty of the Virginia women of her day, but of her it was said that she had “a splendid face,” and wholesome strength of mind and character took the place of more frivolous charms. She was small, not over five feet in height, but there were dignity and force in her presence.

In later years Miss Tompkins devoted herself to Church work and gave liberally of her means and personal service. During conventions of the Episcopal Church, of which she was a devout member, her great hospitality found vent in taking some large house and inviting her friends, young and old, to be her guests. For the Confederate Reunion in Richmond in 1896 she rented a house and let it be known that her hospitality was free to any Confederate soldier who could find no other refuge in the city. During the time she held an almost constant levee. All that were left of them-left of .the thirteen hundred she had brought back to life-came to her door, guided by the Confederate flag and the word “Welcome” at the entrance, to renew old memories and to find their names, rank, duration of illness, etc., in her old hospital book of records.

In late years her large means were depleted by financial disaster; and when the Confederate Woman's Home was established on Grace Street in Richmond, she was invited to come as an honored guest. There she was the recipient of gifts, honors, and attentions from many distinguished persons, especially during Confederate Reunions, when the little lady would sit enthroned in her chair and hold daily receptions; and whenever she entered a convention hall of the Daughters of the Confederacy, the whole body rose to receive her. The Chapters at Gloucester and Mathews C. H., Va., were n-med in her honor, and delegations from both attended the funeral services at the Home in Richmond. All the Confederate organizations of the city were represented, and three representatives from Lee Camp, U. C. V., accompanied the remains to Mathews County, where she was buried at Kingston Church beside her sister, Elizabeth Patterson Tompkins, who, long years before, had built this church. Rev. William Byrd Lee also went from Richmond and assisted Dr. Dame in the burial service. Many beautiful floral tributes came from people and associations in and out of the State. Her name and fame will never be forgotten so long as there is memory of the heroic part played by the women of the South during the War between the States.

Miss Tompkins came of patriotic and distinguished lineage. Her father was Col. Christopher Tompkins, a noted patriot and soldier of his day; her mother was Maria Patterson, daughter of John Patterson, Esq., of Poplar Grove, and Elizabeth Tabb, of Toddsbury, all of Gloucester and Mathews Counties, Va. John Patterson was a naval officer of some distinction. When but a lad of seventeen he had been breveted for gallantry on the field of Monmouth by Washington himself and was transferred to the navy by his own request.

Through him Miss Tompkins could claim connection with the only hereditary order in America, “The Cincinnati Society.” Though born an Englishman, his intense sympathy with the Revolutionary party was further signified by naming his home “Poplar Grove,” the Lombardy poplar being the party symbol of the Whig versus the Tory party of his day. He acquired what was a very large fortune for that day, and Poplar Grove was long and widely known as one of the typical homes of Tidewater Virginia. Of that civilization, the English historian, Greg, has written that it produced the very flower of the Anglo-Saxon race. Upon Mr. Patterson's death Poplar Grove passed to Col. Christopher Tompkins, who had married his eldest daughter. This noble pair also kept ever open doors for a large and cultured circle of friends and relations in a home where everything combined to make life beautiful and noble. The family removed to Richmond after Colonel Tompkins's death, and, Poplar Grove passed out of the family. It is now a noted summer resort.

[From tribute by Mrs. Fielding Lewis Taylor, President Sallie Tompkins Chapter, U. D. C., Gloucester, Va.]