Great things come in small packages, they say. This is certainly true of one hard working young woman named Sally Tompkins. She stood only 5 feet tall, but her good work and devotion made her a giant among mankind.
Sally came from a proud family with strong military roots. General George Washington had commissioned her grandfather. Her brother fought in the Mexican War. When she was only 13, she wrote to him: “I hope you will be able to distinguish yourself in the battle and be a second George Washington and come home to receive congratulations from all your friends.”
When the Civil War broke out, Sally opened her own private hospital to care for wounded soldiers in Richmond. She used her own money to buy most of the supplies. Her enforcement of strict rules for a high standard cleanliness and sanitation saved many lives in a time when the causes of infection were barely understood, if at all. Sally soon became known as “the Angel of the Confederacy.”
Some of the other private hospitals were charging a lot of money for soldiers’ care as the war progressed. As a result, an order came down declaring that only government hospitals run by a commissioned officer could provide care for soldiers.
Sally decided it was time to pay a visit to President Jefferson Davis in person. He was so impressed by her determination and all that she had already accomplished, he commissioned her Captain of Cavalry, to make her hospital official. With that title, Captain Sally Tompkins became the only female commissioned officer in the Confederate Army. Her patients lovingly and respectfully called her “Captain Sally.”
During the war she cared for 1,333 soldiers, but remarkably only 73 of them died. That was the lowest death rate of any hospital during the Civil War in the North or South.
Sally died in 1916 and was buried with full military honors.
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