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Full account of the battle at the Great Bridge


From officers who have arrived in town from Colonel Woodford' s camp since the buttle of the Great Bridge, I have, I think, collected a more particular account of that action than any which has yet been communicated to the publick. You will therefore oblige me by publishing it, and perhaps afford, at the same time, no disagreeable entertainment to our countrymen. As the scene of action is but little known to the generality of poople, it maybe necessary to give some description of it, that the relation may be more clear and satisfactory. The great bridge is built over what is called the Southern Branch of Elizabeth river, twelve miles above Norfolk. The land on each side is marshy to a considerable distance from the river, except at the two extremities of the bridge, where are two pieces of firm land, which may not improperly be called islands, being surrounded entirely by water and marsh, and joined to the main land by causeways. On the little piece of firm ground on the farther, or Norfolk side, Lord Dunmore had erected his fort, in such a manner that his cannon commanded the causeway on his own side and the bridge between him and us, with the marshes around him. The island on this side of the river contained six or seven houses, some of which were burnt down (the nearest to the bridge) by the enemy, after the arrival of our troops; in the others, adjoining the causeway on each side, were stationed a guard every night by Colonel Woodford, but withdrawn before day, that they might not be exposed to the fire of the enemy' s fort in recrossing the causeway to our camp, this causeway being also commanded by their cannon. The causeway on our side was in length about one hundred and sixty yards, and on the hither extremity our breastwork was thrown up. From the breastwork ran a street, gradually ascending, about the length of four hundred yards, to a church, where our main body were encamped. The great trade to Norfolk in shingles, tar, pitch, and turpentine, from the country back of this, had occasioned so many houses to be built here, whence these articles were conveyed to Norfolk by water. But this by-the-by. Such is the nature of the place as described to me, and such were our situation and that of the enemy. On Saturday, the 9th inst˙, after reveille boating, two or three great guns and some musketry were discharged from the enemy' s fort, which, as it was not an unusual thing, was but little regarded by Colonel Woodford. However, soon afterwards he heard a call to the soldiers to stand to their arms; upon which, with all expedition, he made the proper dispositions to receive the enemy. In the mean time, the enemy had crossed the bridge, fired the remaining houses upon the island, and some large piles of shingles, and attacked our guard in the breastwork. Our men returned the fire, and threw them into some confusion, but they were instantly rallied by a Captain Fordyce, and advanced along the causeway with great resolution, keeping up a constant and heavy fire as they approached. Two field-pieces, which had been brought across the bridge and planted on the edge of the island, facing the left of our breastwork, played briskly at the same time upon us. Lieutenant Travis, who commanded in the breastwork, ordered his men to ressrve their fire till the enemy came within the distance of fifty yards, and then they gave it to them with terrible execution. The brave Fordyce exerted himself to keep up their


spirits, reminded them of their ancient glory, and, waving his hat over his head, encouragingly told them the day was their own. Thus pressing forward, he fell within fifteen steps of the breastwork. His wounds were many, and his death would have been that of a hero had he met it in a better cause. The progress of the enemy was now at an end; they retreated over the causeway with precipitation, and were dreadfully galled in their rear. Hitherto, on our side, only the guard, consisting of twenty-five, and some others, upon the whole amounting to not more than ninety, had been engaged. Only the regulars of the Fourteenth Regiment, in number one hundred and twenty, had advanced upon the causeway; and about two hundred and thirty tories and negroes had, after crossing the bridge, continued upon the island. The regulars, after retreating along the causeway, wore again rallied by Captain Leslie, and the two field-pieces continued to play upon our men. It was at this time that Colonel Woodford was advancing down the street to the breastwork with the main body, and against him was now directed the whole fire of the enemy. Never were cannon better served; but yet, in the face of them and the musketry, which kept up a continual blaze, onr men marched on with the utmost intrepidity. Colonel Stevens, of the Culpepper battalion, was sent round to the left to flank the enemy, which was done with such activity and spirit that a rout immediately ensued. The enemy fled into their fort, leaving behind them the two field-pieces, which, however, they took care to spike up with nails. Many were killed and wounded in the flight, but Colonel Woodfordvery prudently restrained his troops from urging their pursuit too far. From the beginning of the attack till the repulse from the breastwork, might bo about fourteen or fifteen minutes; till the total defeat upwards of half an hour. It is said that some of the enemy preferred death to captivity, from a fear of being scalped, which Lord Dunmore inhumanly told them would be their fate should they be taken alive. Thirty-one, killed and wounded, fell into our hands, and the number borne off was much greater. Through the whole of the engagement, every officer and soldier bahaved with the greatest courage and calmness. The conduct of our sentinels I cannot pass over in silenco. Before they quitted their stations they fired at least three rounds as the enemy were crossing the bridge, and one of them, who was posted behind some shingles, kept his ground till he had fired eight times, and, after receiving a whole platoon, made his escape over the causeway into our breastwork. The scene was closed with as much humanity as it had been conducted with bravery. The work of death being over, every one' s attention was directed to the succour of the unhappy sufferers, and it is an undoubted fact, that Captain Leslie was so affected with the tenderness of our troops towards those who were yet capable of assistance, that he gave signs from the fort of his thankfulness for it. What is not to be paralleled in history, and will scarcely appear credible, except to such as acknowledge a Providence over human affairs, this victory was gained at the expense of no more than a slight wound in a soldier' s hand; and one circumstance which renders it still more amazing, is, that the field-pieces raked the whole length of the street, and absolutely threw double-headed shot as far as the church, and afterwards, as our troops approached, cannonaded them heavily with grape-shot. Va˙ Gaz.