William Woodford Letter about the Battle of Great Bridge, December 9, 1775
This letter from Colonel William Woodford to the president of the Virginia Revolutionary Convention, Edmund Pendleton, describes the Battle of Great Bridge that took place near Norfolk early in the morning of December 9, 1775. It was the first land battle of the Revolutionary War in the South. After the royal governor, John Murray, fourth earl of Dunmore, fled Williamsburg in June 1775, he established a headquarters near Portsmouth, where Loyalists and British warships congregated. Dunmore issued a proclamation on November 7, 1775, offering freedom to enslaved Virginians who ran away and joined him, and Dunmore's forces skirmished with militia near Norfolk. To protect the area from Dunmore's forces, the Virginia Committee of Safety ordered Woodford, commanding officer of the 2d Virginia Regiment, and the Culpeper Minutemen to the scene. Woodford stationed his force at Great Bridge, a span over the Elizabeth River.
Under orders from Dunmore, the British commander, Captain Samuel Leslie attacked Woodford's forces. The attack failed, as Virginia soldiers fired on the attackers, killing more than 13 British soldiers and wounding nearly 50 others. The Virginians suffered no casualties. Dunmore then withdrew his force to Portsmouth, and the Virginians, reinforced by troops from North Carolina, marched into and occupied Norfolk, the largest city in Virginia.
Woodford served gallantly in the Continental army, was promoted to brigadier general in 1777, and died as a prisoner of war after being captured when the army of which he was a part surrendered in Charleston, South Carolina.
1. What types of people made up the British forces?
2. The patriots and the British were at a deadlock for several days before the battle. Who attacked first?
3. Why was royal governor Dunmore confident of a British victory?
1. How did Dunmore's Proclamation (November 7, 1775) affect those who fought in this battle?
2. Why was the victory at the Battle of Great Bridge important for the Americans?
Middlekauff, Robert. The Glorious Cause: The American Revolution, 1763–1789. Rev. ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.
Selby, John E. The Revolution in Virginia, 1775–1783. Williamsburg, Va.: Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, 1988.