Petersburg is an independent city in Virginia, United States located on the Appomattox River and 23 miles (37 km) south of the state capital city of Richmond. The city's population was 30,513 as of 2009, predominantly of African-American ethnicity. The city's unique industrial past and its location as a transportation hub combined to create wealth for Virginia and the region.
The location on the Appomattox River at the fall line (head-of-navigation of the U.S. east coast rivers) early in the history in the Colony of Virginia caused Petersburg to become a strategic place for transportation and commercial activities, as well as the site of Fort Henry. As railroads emerged beginning in the 1830s, it became a major transfer point for both north-south and east-west competitors. The Petersburg Railroad was one of the earliest predecessors of the modern-day CSX Transportation (CSX) system. Several of the earliest predecessors of the area's other major Class 1 railroad, Norfolk Southern (NS), also met at Petersburg. Both CSX and NS rail systems maintain transportation centers at Petersburg. Due to the railroad network, during the American Civil War (1861–65), Petersburg was key to Union plans for the defeat of the Confederate capital of Richmond. The city was the site of nine months of trench warfare during the Siege of Petersburg. Battlefield sites are located throughout the city and surrounding areas, partly preserved as Petersburg National Battlefield.
The city is significant for its role in African-American history. Petersburg had one of the oldest free black settlements in the state at Pocahontas Island. In the post-Bellum period, a historically black college which later became Virginia State University (VSU) was established in nearby Ettrick in Chesterfield County. Also nearby, Richard Bland College, a junior college was established originally as a branch of Williamsburg's College of William and Mary. Two Baptist churches in the city, whose congregations were founded in the late 18th century, are among the oldest black congregations and churches in the nation. In the 20th century, these and other black churches were leaders in the national Civil Rights Movement.