Great Bridge Battlefield & Waterways Park and Visitor Center
In the early morning of December 9, 1775, two opposing forces faced each other across the GreatBridge, the British on the north end and the patriots to the south. The battle lasted about thirty minutes...but its outcome will last as long as America...and is still being felt today.
The Great Bridge spanning the Southern Branch of the Elizabeth River along with a series of causeways and little bridges crossing the marshes, provided the only landward approach to Norfolk and created a strategic supply line. British forces moved to control it.
The enemy is strongly fortified on the other side of the bridge?we are situated here in the mud and mire, exposed to every hardship that can be conceived?
Colonel William Woodford, in a letter to Patrick Henry on December 7, 1775
Patriot forces, totaling more than 900 men under the command of Colonel Woodford and consisting of the 2nd Virginia Regiment, the Culpeper Minutemen and militias from the Counties of Norfolk, Princess Anne, Currituck and Pasquotank, had entrenched themselves behind a breastwork within cannon shot of Fort Murray, the British wooden stockade fort at the northern end of the bridge. Having no cannon, they did not attack the British position.
We passed the bridge exposed to the Enemy...over a narrow Causeway which led from the Bridge through a Morass at the end of which they were securely posted.
A British account of the Battle of Great Bridge
As reveille was beating in the patriot camp, British forces approximating 670 men, including the 14th Regiment of Foot, Gunners from the HMS Otter, 60 tory volunteers organized as the Queen's Own Loyal Virginia Regiment and runaway slaves organized as Lord Dunmore's Ethiopian Regiment, launched a head-on attack led by Captain Samuel Leslie. Sixty British grenadiers led by Captain Charles Fordyce were forced by the narrow causeway to march "up in files." Crossing in perfect parade array to the beating of two drums and completely exposed to patriot soldiers, the British were suffering casualties in ten minutes The pitched battle lasted only about half an hour, but long enough to produce a "scene of slaughter."
The Rebels behaved with the greatest Humanity, ceasing fire when we were retreating with the wounded
A British account of the Baffle of Great Bridge
The British abandoned Fort Murray that night and retreated to Norfolk. A single Virginian was slightly wounded, while British casualties numbered "upwards of 70."
The Patriot victory at the Battle of Great Bridge convinced many southern loyalists, southern patriots on the verge of giving up, and others unsure of their allegiance, to join the patriot cause. It also led to the British evacuation of Norfolk and later the whole colony.