Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Greatest Battle You Never Heard Of

The Battle of Great Bridge was vital to American independence from Great Britain in two regards. The Great Road, other than small foot bridges interconnecting solid hummocks, was the only way to get from the mainland to Norfolk Harbor. This great natural harbor would be critical for maintaining and supplying naval vessels, but could only be used if it could be accessed and protected. Knowing this, British forces decided to control this strategic supply line to the harbor by the Great Road. As mentioned before, the main waterway to be crossed was the Southern Branch of the Elizabeth River, and the Great Bridge accomplished that. Therefore, the British built Fort Murray, a dirt breastworks and wood stockade, at the Norfolk end of the bridge, and guarded it with 670 men. 
Battle of Great Bridge
The patriots had gathered 900 men that encamped on the opposite side of the bridge. As the patriot camp stirred at daybreak on 7 December 1775, the British advanced. The bridge was so narrow the British had to parade across the bridge in file to the beat of two drums, completely exposed to the patriot fire. The battle only lasted 30 minutes, just long enough to produce a “scene of slaughter.”

The British credited the patriots with great humility in withholding fire as the Red Coats withdrew back across the bridge with their wounded. By nightfall the British had abandoned their fort and retreated to Norfolk with roughly 70 casualties. A single Virginian had been slightly wounded.

Besides preserving what remains one of our nation’s greatest naval facilities, this small battle sealed allegiances so as to convince the British they had only to withdraw from Norfolk and from this new nation. The defeat of the British and their expulsion from Norfolk convinced both Southern Loyalists and wavering Southern Patriots alike that the obvious wisdom was in supporting the patriot cause.

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