The first modern settlement of Petersburg began in the 17th century. The city was incorporated in 1748. During the American Revolutionary War, the British occupied it, and Major-General William Phillips bombarded it from the Marquis de Lafayette’s positions north of the river. In the years following the war, it became a popular destination for blacks in Virginia and a hub for railroads. By 1860, it had become the second-largest city in Virginia.
Petersburg played a strategic role during the Civil War in 1861. Confederate troops received several infantry companies, artillery units from the city, and three cavalry companies. Over 300 free blacks from Petersburg, Virginia, volunteered to work on the fortifications of Norfolk, Virginia, in April 1861. Slaveholders also provided slave labor. Petersburg was targeted during General Ulysses S. Grant’s Overland Campaign in 1864. Petersburg served as a lifeline for Richmond, the Confederate capital, because of its numerous railroads. Confederate troops and supplies transited through Pocahontas Island’s depot, built for the Richmond & Petersburg rail line.
The Union troops finally pushed their left flank to Weldon, North Carolina and the Southside Railroad in early April 1865. After the Confederate forces lost Petersburg’s vital lifelines, the Union Army won the siege. When Richmond could no longer defend itself following the fall of Petersburg, Lee attempted to lead his men south to join Confederate forces in North Carolina. On April 9, 1865, he was surrounded and forced to surrender at Appomattox Court House, Virginia. After the Civil War, many freedmen migrated to Petersburg to rebuild, work on the river, and escape white control. The community benefited from numerous churches, businesses, and institutions founded by free blacks.
Some incredible historic photos show Petersburg during and after the American Civil war.