Artifact of the Month Collections Medical Women's History

February 2016 Artifact of the Month | Captain Sally Tompkins

By Jodi Frederiksen
Collections Manager

The PBS television show Mercy Street tells the story of Mansion House, a hotel appropriated by Federal forces for use as a Union hospital in Alexandria, Virginia.  Throughout the North and South during the war, private residences and buildings were used to nurse sick and wounded soldiers. 

In Richmond, efforts to care for soldiers led citizens to open their homes, churches and schools as hospitals.  One such hospital was located in the home of Judge John Robertson, run by Miss Sally Louisa Tompkins, who undertook administration of the hospital at the age of 27.  Shortly after the Battle of First Manassas, Jefferson Davis mandated that military hospitals be managed by military personnel.  Pleased with the level of care at Robertson Hospital, Sally Tompkins was appointed as a Captain in the Confederate Army. 

During the war, Captain Tompkins’ hospital served more than 1,300 soldiers, and achieved the lowest mortality rate of any hospital, losing only 73 men.  At the hospital, Captain Tompkins kept this register, which lists the name, company, commanding officer, regiment, disease or infliction, and discharge information for each person treated at the hospital throughout the war. The register can be browsed here.

The Register contains a handwritten inscription inside the front cover which reads, “Register of the Confederate Robertson Hospital corner of 3rd & Main Streets, Richmond, Va.  Private Hospital Kept by Captain Sally L. Tompkins from August 10th 1861 to June 13th 1865.  This is written by myself, Sally L. Tompkins.” The register was given to the Museum by Captain Sally Tompkins in 1896. 

This watch, which bears the inscription, “Redeem Time” belonged to Captain Tompkins, and was bequeathed to Howell Brooke, with direction that “he shall obey the injunction engraved within the case.” It was given to the Museum by his wife in 1962.