William Woodford Wins the First Battle in Virginia

William Woodford Wins the First Battle in Virginia

William Woodford was a lifelong military man who rose to the rank of Brigadier General in the Continental Army.

Unfortunately, the disastrous Siege of Charleston led to his capture and eventual demise.

William Woodford

William Woodford of Virginia was a military man by nature.

By the age of 21 he began serving in the militia.  In this role, he participated in the French and Indian War. 

During this time, he was a subordinate of George Washington.  Woodford was a distant relative of Washington through marriage.

Woodford and Washington’s friendship would carry over to the Revolutionary War.


In 1775, Woodford was elected to the Third Virginia Convention.  This extra-legal gathering was done despite Royal Governor Dunmore’s explicit instructions not to meet.

In the immediate wake of the Battles of Lexington and Concord, the Third Virginia Convention decided to call in the militia. 

Woodford was named Colonel of the 2nd Virginia Regiment.

Great Bridge

Woodford brought his men to Norfolk, then the largest city in Virginia. 

Governor Dunmore had fortified Great Bridge which lead into the city.  The 2nd Virginia Regiment arrived and stationed themselves on the other side of the Elizabeth River.

Dunmore, thinking he had the upper hand, attacked the Patriots in order to gain more control of the colony.

William Woodford was an experienced soldier, who outflanked Dunmore during the fight.  The British retreated, loosing between 60 and 100 men (sources vary).  The Rebels, however, had but one injury.

The Battle of Great Bridge was the first major American victory in the South.  

Royal Governor Dunmore fled to a ship in the harbor.  Great Britain would never again make the laws of Virginia.

Burning of Norfolk

Soon after Great Bridge, Major General Robert Howe arrived in Norfolk and took command.  

Woodford was present to repel an attempt by the redcoats to retake the city.  Seeing they were outnumbered (and could easily be surrounded), Woodford and Howe burned Norfolk to prevent Dunmore from gaining more supplies.

Brigadier General

Woodford and the 2nd Virginia Regiment next moved to New Jersey to join Washington and official become part of the Continental Army.

Woodford served bravely in the Battles of Brandywine and Monmouth.  He was rewarded for this by being promoted to Brigadier General.

In early 1779, Woodford was sent back to the South.  Participated in the defense of Charleston during the British’s two-month long siege.

Unfortunately, the Continental Army failed in this attempt.  Even more unfortunately, Woodford was taken captive.  This would be his final battle in the American Revolution.


As a POW, William Woodford was taken to New York City and held on a British prison ship. 

He was not there long. 

The conditions on these prison ships were notoriously poor.  Within seven months, Woodford was dead.

While it is difficult to determine what cause Woodford’s death at the age of 46, the likely culprit is disease.  It was common for even the strongest of men to perish in the dreadful conditions prisoners suffered in New York Harbor.


William Woodford’s most celebrated success at the Battle of Great Bridge may have happened very early in the Revolutionary War, but it is no less important.  He continued serving in the army until he was named Brigadier General, the second highest obtainable rank at the time (other than Commander-in-Chief).  Despite his heroics, he met a most untimely end in the most deplorable of circumstances.

To learn more about lesser known Founders like William Woodford, subscribe to our email list and receive a new article every day.

George Clinton Governs New York

George Clinton Governs New York

John Ashley Moderates the Sheffield Resolves

John Ashley Moderates the Sheffield Resolves