DescriptionPetersburg began in 1645 as Fort Henry, a frontier fort and trading post. In 1781 a British force under generals William Phillips and Benedict Arnold marched on the town, which was inadequately garrisoned by 1,000 men under Maj. Gen. Friedrich von Steuben. After a short skirmish to cover his retreat, von Steuben withdrew across Pocahontas Bridge, burning it behind him. Later the Marquis de Lafayette bombarded the city. It was in Petersburg that Gen. Charles Cornwallis gathered British troops for the Yorktown campaign.
By the time it was incorporated as a city in 1850, Petersburg had become a thriving industrial and commercial center, with tobacco warehouses, cotton and flour mills and iron foundries. Economic success was followed by a cultural blossoming; schools, colleges, churches and theaters flourished.
Unfortunately, Petersburg's importance as an industrial and transportation center of the Confederacy made it a prime target for Gen. Ulysses S. Grant's armies. In the summer of 1864 the surrounding countryside turned into a battlefield. Stray shells struck 800 homes. For 10 months the city suffered hunger and cannon bombardment before it fell to the Union near the close of the Civil War.
Not long after the war's end, Mary Logan, wife of Union commander Gen. John A. Logan, witnessed a group of schoolgirls placing flowers on the graves of Petersburg defenders at the Old Blandford Church. Deeply moved when she saw the ritual repeated the next year, she related the story to her husband, who took steps that ultimately led to the observance of Memorial Day as a national holiday.
InfoOfficePetersburg Area Regional Tourism 1964 Wakefield Ave. Petersburg, VA 23805. Phone:(804)861-1666 or (877)730-7278
Self-guiding toursThe visitor center offers a variety of maps outlining tours of Petersburg and its Old Towne historic district as well as Lee's Retreat. This 26-stop driving tour through seven counties connecting Petersburg to Appomattox follows the route of Gen. Robert E. Lee at the end of the Civil War.
Petersburg's African-American heritage is one of the oldest in the country. By the mid-19th century, the area had one of the largest free black populations in the state. A brochure outlining a self-guiding tour of Petersburg's African-American historic sites is available at the visitor center and at Petersburg museums.