The first commissioned female officer served in the Civil War
Some might scoff at the idea of a Confederate Army officer being counted in U.S. military history, but Sally Tompkins is one worth noting. Not only was she a commissioned female officer in a world of men, Capt. Sally Tompkins' hospital had the lowest death rate of any hospital on either side of the war.
The Confederate Army was staffed and run by officers who had earned their ranks through the same means as U.S. government Army officers, the United States Military Academy at West Point. Their judgment can be said to be markedly similar – and in some cases much better – than their Union Army counterparts. After all, the North suffered a series of stunning defeats at the hands of these generals early on in the war.
So to say that Sally Tompkins was appointed by officers whose judgment would probably have been accepted in the United States Army is a point worth making. She first came to run a hospital out of the home of Richmond, Va. Judge John Robertson while just 27 years old. Soon after, Confederate President Jefferson Davis mandated that all Confederate military hospitals be run by Confederate military officers. Miss Tompkins was suddenly Capt. Tompkins, CSA.
But Tompkins was the only officer that would refuse to be paid for her work.
The Robertson Hospital, Richmond, Virginia, ca. 1861.
She was the daughter of a Revolutionary War veteran and thus appreciated the sacrifices made by men on the battlefields. As a native Virginian, she swore loyalty to her native state, and when the time came for her to help the cause, she picked up the slack where she could. That time just happened to come right after the First Battle of Bull Run, near Manassas, Va. Richmond was quickly overloaded with dying and wounded soldiers. Civilians were asked to open their homes to those men, and that's how she started overseeing the Robertson home.
Throughout the war, Capt. Tompkins and her hospital served some 1,300 wounded troops, losing only 73 of them. Tompkins kept a register of each patient's name, company, commanding officer, regiment, infliction, and discharge information for everyone at the hospital throughout the war. Tompkins' mortality rate was the lowest on either side of the war, losing only 73 of those 1,300 – just five percent.
For this achievement, she became known as "The Angel of the Confederacy."