Civil War Period Mourning Brooch Worn By Capt. Sally Tompkins
Civil War Period Mourning Brooch Worn By Capt. Sally Tompkins – Sally Louisa Tompkins (November 9, 1833 – July 25, 1916) was a humanitarian, nurse, and philanthropist. Many believe that she was also the only woman officially commissioned in the Confederate Army. She is best remembered for privately sponsoring a hospital in Richmond, Virginia to treat soldiers wounded in the American Civil War. Under her supervision she had the lowest death rate of any hospital Union or Confederate, during the Civil War. Whatever her devotion and work she has been remembered as the “Angel of the Confederacy”.
This rare mourning brooch was obtained by Perry Adams Antiques directly from the lineal descendants of the Cocke and Meredith families. Both the Cockes, owners of “Derwent”, the Powhatan County, Virginia home where Robert E. Lee stayed during the summer of 1865, to recuperate after the Civil War ended, and the Merediths (the family of Judge John Meredith, prominent Richmond attorney and one of three Richmond leaders who handed the city over to Union General Weitzel in early April of 1865), had townhouses, on Franklin Street, in Richmond, just a couple of blocks west of the state capitol. The Merediths lived at 310 Franklin Street, just a very short walk around the corner from the Robertson Hospital, at 3rd and Main Streets, where Captain Sally Tompkins worked. The son of Judge Meredith, William Bernard Meredith, a Lieutenant in the Virginia Ashland Light Artillery, was hospitalized on 7/15/1862, in Richmond, VA, with phthisis pulmonaris; he was furloughed on 8/15/1862 and died of typhoid fever, at home, on 8/22/1862, in Richmond. Given the close proximity of the Robertson Hospital to the Meredith home on Franklin Street, it is highly conceivable that Lt. Meredith was initially hospitalized there, then moved to his parents’ home, where he would die shortly thereafter.
This brooch is Victorian rose gold, with what appears to be ten small garnets or garnet-cut onyx, surrounding woven hair within a glassed dome. The attachment device is a typical T-pin, often found on Civil War era jewelry. Needless to say, any personal items of Captain Sally Tompkins, the only woman ever commissioned by the Confederate Government in the CS Army, are an extreme rarity and most desirable today. All elements of the grouping of many other important items in the Cocke-Meredith collection, obtained by Perry Adams Antiques, have their provenance labeled on period paper and in period ink, as does this brooch.
Captain Sally Tompkins
Richmond capital city of the Confederacy after Virginia became one of the last of the Confederate states to secede from the Union in April, 1861. It was generally thought, by both North and South alike, that the armed conflict would end quickly. After the first battle, the nation realized that the war would be much longer than they imagined.
The First Battle of Bull Run, also known as the First Battle of Manassas on July 21, 1861, was a southern tactical victory which opened the Civil War in the first major hand-to-hand combat. Despite the word of victory, the Confederate capital city was ill prepared for the hundreds of wounded soldiers who subsequently poured in, many arriving via the Virginia Central Railroad. The shock brought the reality of the horrors of warfare directly home even as officials and citizens scrambled to take care of the overflow of injured and sick patients. Official hospitals were filled to capacity, factories, churches, and even homes became temporary hospitals to accommodate the wounded.
At nearly 28 years old, Sally was among the civilians who responded by opening the home of Judge John Robertson as a hospital. . Judge Robertson had taken his family to the countryside for safety and left his home to Sally to use as a hospital for as long as she needed. Sally was not alone in this effort. A number of ladies from the Saint James Episcopal Church volunteered their time and finances to keep the hospital running. These women were collectively known as “The Ladies of Robertson Hospital.”
After the initial crisis had passed, Confederate President Jefferson Davis instituted regulations requiring military hospitals be under military command. However, The Robertson Hospital had done such an outstanding job and was prepared to continue that he commissioned Tompkins as a captain so that she could continue her work. She was one of two women the other Lucy Otey of Lynchburg who were officially commissioned as officers in the Confederate States Army. She refused any payment for her services. On her military commission, dated 9 September 1861, she wrote, “I accepted the commission as Captain in the C.S.A. when it was offered. But, I would not allow my name to be placed upon the pay roll of the army.”
The Robertson Hospital, as it was known, treated patients continuously throughout the war, discharging its last soldier on 13 June 1865. During its four-year existence, Robertson Hospital treated 1,334 wounded with only seventy-three deaths, the lowest mortality rate of any military hospital during the Civil War. Author and Civil War diarist Mary Chesnut was a frequent visitor to the hospital. She recorded “Our Florence Nightingale is Sally Tompkins.” Another diarist, Judith McGuire, was a volunteer at the hospital and included a number of vivid descriptions of nursing the patients while there.
Running a hospital was not without its trials. Richmond depended on imports for trade and when the blockade tightened along the coast, the city faced riots in the streets. When supplies were difficult to get within the city, The Robertson Hospital hired a blockade-runner to bring necessities from abroad.
Since Sally and a number of the other ladies had remained constant at the hospital through the war, they ultimately won the love and respect of their patients. Despite her plainness, Sally faced a number of marriage proposals from former patients out of gratitude for what she had done, all of which she declined. More than 1,300 men fortunate to be sent to Robertson Hospital called her simply “Captain Sally.”