Under 5 feet tall, Sally Tomkins was a lot tougher than she looked. She was born to a family with a proud military tradition: Sally’s grandfather was given his commission by General George Washington himself. When her brother went off to fight in the Mexican War, 13-year old Sally wrote: “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.”
Sally lived in Richmond, Virginia when the Civil War broke out. She opened her own private hospital for wounded soldiers, covering most of her supplies with her own money. Her hard work and devotion earned her the nickname, Angel of the Confederacy. The hospital became known for its cleanliness, Sally forcing in the highest levels of sanitation of any hospital of the period. This saved many lives during an era when the cause of infection was poorly understood.
As the war went on, some private hospitals were charging a lot of money. Because of this, orders were issued that soldiers could only be cared for at government hospitals run by a commissioned officer. Sally went to see President Jefferson Davis, who was so impressed that he commissioned Sally Tompkins a Captain of Cavalry, making her hospital official. And that made her the only female commissioned officer in the Confederate Army. Her patients usually called her Captain Sally. Of 1,333 soldiers in her care, only 73 died, the lowest mortality rate of any hospital, North or South. When Sally died in 1916, she was buried with full military honors.
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