225 years ago today in the South - Norfolk, Virginia
- Norfolk, Virginia
1 2 January 1776
On the 14th of December Colonel Robert Howe took control of the Virginia
and North Carolinian force and marched into Norfolk. Colonel Howe's
commission predated Woodford's. With a combined force of about a thousand
men, Woodford moved to Norfolk, while he left Thomas Marshall in charge
at Great Bridge. A standoff ensued between Dunmore, aboard his
man-of-war, and Woodford, firmly in control of the land.
Most of the loyalists who still remained ashore at Norfolk had moved to
Dunmore's floating town anchored in the Elizabeth River. The Patriot
reinforcements lined the harbor and harassed the British by sniping from
deserted buildings along the Norfolk shore. In retaliation, Dunmore sent
raiding parties, including the Ethiopian Regiment, to several shore
locations to kill, capture or drive away the snipers. Each raid redoubled
Colonel Howe refused to allow provisions to go out to the enemy vessels
anchored in the harbor, crowded with Loyalist refugees. British foraging
parties were sent back under heavy fire. Dunmore announced that he would
begin bombardment of the town on New Years Day. Howe requested more time
so that he could evacuate the women and children of the town. Dunmore
On New Year's Day 1776, Norfolk was rocked by a series of explosions. At
four oclock in the afternoon the British began a seven hour bombardment
of the town. Every vessel in Dunmore's squadron began "a severe
cannonade" which lasted until two o'clock the next morning. The
Continentals were stationed on the shore and many had to stand duty for
48 hours. Many of the North Carolinians became bored and taunted the
British ships by making lewd and obscene gestures. Landing parties came
ashore and set fire to parts of the city that had not been hit by the
bombardment. Another landing party dragged a field piece into the center
of town, but was driven back to their boats. The British continued their
bombardment until 2:00 A.M. on January 2nd. The fires burned for two days
and four-fifths of the town was reduced to ashes.
The forces under Dunmore and Woodford both started fires. Some were a
direct result of Dunmore's bombardment; others were set to clear out
houses and buildings being used for cover by both sides. Some of the
fires were "allowed to be spread" to Tory owned businesses and houses. By
the second of January, four fifths of Virginias largest city lay
smoldering on the ground.
Howe had nearly restored order, when a second major bombardment hit the
city on January 21. Three Virginians were killed in the attack, two of
which were from Abraham Buford's company. A fourth man had his arm
smashed. Howe recommended to the Virginia Convention that rest of Norfolk
be destroyed due to the suitability of the town as a British base. The
Convention agreed and the remainder of Norfolk was put to the torch.
Government officials in Williamsburg did mind the loss of such an
important port, since they thought it was a "nest of Tories."
Dunmore, content with the havoc he had wrought, sailed his little fleet
up the Chesapeake. .