The Battle of Craney Island (1813): Saving Norfolk from the British

The Battle of Craney Island (Army.mil)

Earlier this year was the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Craney Island. It was this battle during the War of 1812 that repelled the British advance toward Norfolk, Virginia after pummeling the northern Chesapeake. The British began a new strategy of a staging larger attacks after receiving reinforcements from Great Britain. Their general strategy was to draw American forces out of Canada.

The invasion and subsequent capture of Norfolk and Portsmouth would have dealt a serious blow to the United States. Control of the Chesapeake’s outlet into the Atlantic would have given the British free reign throughout the bay and certainly would have caused a major scaling back of American operations in Canada. With the island and surrounding areas hastily fortified, the British settled in for the attack. American forces numbered around 750 men while it is estimated the British force was about 2000. I have recently discovered, unfortunately after the anniversary, that one of the 750 Americans at the battle was a Virginian named Joseph Nimmo.

Joseph, about 14 years old when the war began, was denied multiple times the opportunity to fight. In an 1884 biography written by his son, Joseph Nimmo Jr., it is explained how the elder Joseph found himself at the battle.

“While employed as [a] clerk in Norfolk, that city was beleaguered by the British fleet, which, during the war of 1812, dominated Chesapeake Bay. Young Nimmo, although only about seventeen [15, based on genealogical evidence] years of age, volunteered in the service of his country. At first he was refused on account of his youth and smallness of stature, but upon persistent entreaty he was allowed to shoulder his musket and march with a hastily-formed company of recruits to Craney Island, where on or two ineffectual attempts were made by the enemy to land and storm the defensive work which had been erected by the Americans at that point.”

Saving Norfolk was an American imperative and I assume his participation was an “all hands on deck” situation. I have never found any record of Joseph fighting in the War of 1812 but numerous other Nimmos from the area are in the 1812 rolls. I can only assume, based on available evidence, that my fourth great-grandfather Joseph Nimmo was a part of the battle since the circumstance was so dire. It was a magnificent victory for the Americans. We suffered no casualties while the British gave up hope of capturing the city.

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