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Captain Sally Tompkins was buried at Christ Episcopal Church, Kingston Parish, in Mathews County, with full military honors. She died on July 25, 1916. Photo by Bob Cerullo


ate soldiers. And, it was funded by Sally Tompkins. Davis devised a plan that could keep the hospital open to care for Con- federate troops. He commissioned Sally Louisa Tompkins as a captain of cavalry in the Confederate army.


Henceforth she was known as Captain


Sally Tompkins, the only woman ever commissioned in the Confederate army. The tiny Angel of the Confederacy was small in stature, she was less than five feet, but a giant in her energy, spirit and religious zeal. She was commissioned on September 8, 1861. The wounded troops were known to call her “the little lady with the milk white hand.” Those hands may have been milk white, but they were no stranger to work. During its existence, Robertson Hospital treated a total of 1,333 wounded Confederate soldiers. Of that total of seriously wounded, only 73 died. The survival rate of Robertson Hospital was an incredible 94.5 percent, despite the fact that its reputation caused the most severely injured to be sent to Robertson. Sally Tompkins insisted on everything being immaculately clean, unlike the con- ditions in other hospitals. Beds and sheets were clean. Wounds were kept clean and dressed with clean bandages. She insisted her staff be clean as well. This attention to cleanliness is credited with her being ahead of her time with regard to infection control. It was a time when very little was known about infection control. Doctors did not see the need to wash their hands before an operation. Surgical instruments were not sterilized from one patient to another. It was not until 1867 that Joseph Lister taught the world about infection control. Everything was in short supply in Richmond during the war. Capt. Tomp- kins’ ingenuity was put to the test. Rob- ertson Hospital hired a blockade-runner to bring necessities to the hospital from abroad.


Although Capt. Tompkins was a bonafide officer in the Confederate army, she would not accept any pay from the army. She tended to more than just the physical needs of the 1,300 men who passed through Robertson Hospital. She spent long days and nights carrying her medicine bag and her Bible through the hall of the hospital ready to fluff a pillow, perform a needed medical procedure, offer a comforting word, or read from the Bible. When a solider was released, she


22 March/April 2017


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