In the southern part of Hampton Roads is the city of Chesapeake where one of the main roads is Battlefield Boulevard. Going down this road several miles from the I-64 you will eventually come to a very modern drawbridge before you come to the town of Great Bridge. To the left before you get to the bridge is a monument that has no easy way to gain access to or figure out what is represents. It was here at the Battle of Great Bridge that the end came to the British Colonial Government in Virginia almost eight months before the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1775.
In the late 1700’s, the area that is now strip malls and great restaurants was a causeway that was surrounded by the Great Dismal Swamp. The town of Great Bridge was a shipping point for the goods coming up from the Carolinas to the port of Norfolk and the local ship building industry. The area that was where the Great Bridge was at was a natural barrier to stop any attack coming from the south and rebel forces mustering in the Carolinas. It was likewise a barrier from an attack from the British forces in Norfolk towards the Carolinas.
At the time, Norfolk was one of the key centers of Loyalists in a heavily divided Virginia. The last Royal Governor of Virginia was the 4th Earl of Dunmore, who had moved to Norfolk with some British and Loyalist forces after a hasty departure from Williamsburg in June 1775. After his arrival in Norfolk, resistance to the British began to increase in the surrounding countryside. Lord Dunmore ordered the building of a military stockade called Fort Murray on the Norfolk side of the Elizabeth River. This was manned by a platoon of soldiers from the 14th Regiment. The soldiers then removed some of the bridge planking, destroyed 5 or 6 houses on the Great Bridge town side shore and fortified the narrow causeway bridge approaches with two cannon that were manned by Royal Navy sailors.
By October, the British forces in Norfolk had grown strong enough to begin raiding the surrounding countryside. The 2d Virginia Regiment of the Continental Army was ordered by the Continental Congress to march on Norfolk and on 2d of December took up position on the Great Bridge side of the bridge and dug fortifications after failing to realize they vastly outnumber the current British and Loyalist force at Fort Murray. By the 8th of December the Colonial forces under Col. William Woodford of Continental soldiers, minuteman riflemen, and state militia soldiers numbered over 900 while the British forces had grown to 400 men.
British intelligence vastly underestimated the number of Continental forces, and Lord Dunmore ordered for an attack to take place across the bridge on the Colonial positions. The bridge planks were replaced in the night, and by carefully avoiding any attempt at using any military strategy or planning, the British forces attacked across the bridge with bayonets fixed early in the morning on the 9th. The exchanging of shots between the advancing grenadiers and the Continental forces lost the British any chance of surprise and slowed their crossing. They were already too late, the Colonial’s had been alerted and were ready.
The Colonial earthworks were manned by about 60 men under LT Travis while the rest of the camp mobilized. They waited until the British grenadiers were within 50 meters before opening fire. The British attack faltered as half of the grenadiers fell, including their captain, who died just steps from Colonial position. Only 11 of the 60 grenadiers leading the attack survived the battle. The British then retreated across the bridge and fall back to Fort Murray as the Colonial rifleman began firing on them. The British forces, after a true to collect their dead and wounded, sneaked out of Fort Murray that night and escaped to Norfolk.
With losses of 102 men killed or wounded, it was a complete disaster. Royal authority in the Virginia Colony was at an end. Lord Dunmore moved to a Royal Navy ship, and Norfolk was soon captured by Colonial Army forces.
Now you know where there is a monument next to the bridge.