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The War in America: The Town of Petersburg, Virginia

The Illustrated London News, vol. 45, no. 1274, p. 191-193.

August 20, 1864

The Town Of Petersburg, Virginia.

Our Illustration of the American war for this week consists of a View of the town of Petersburg, Virginia, now besieged by General Grant. This view is taken from the Richmond side. The railway bridge across the Appomattox is seen towards the left, and a large factory beyond. The river is navigable only below bridge, as there are rapids above. Ships of considerable draught can approach Walsall's Landing, about six miles down, and smaller vessels may come quite up to the city. Petersburg is contemporary with Richmond, both cities having been laid out in 1733, and having continued to be rivals in commerce, until Richmond acquired a special importance by being made the capital of the State. The population of Petersburg was about 12,000 before the war. It had six churches, several large cotton and tobacco factories; and was a place of considerable trade, exporting flour, cotton, and tobacco. As early as 1645 a fort, called Fort Henry, was erected at the falls of the Appomattox, on the point where Petersburg now stands, for the defence of the neighbourhood against the Nottoways and other Indian tribes. Soon after this, Peter Jones, one of the first settlers of Virginia, established there a trade with the Indians. The place where he fixed himself was precisely where the two principal streets now meet; and was in consequence called Peter's Point, but the name was afterwards changed to Petersburg. Two suburbs have since been incorporated with the city, one called Pocahontas and another Blandford, at which latter place are the ruins of an old church, and which, being on high ground towards the southern side of the town, must now be much exposed to the Federal fire.

Petersburg was occupied at one time by the British troops in the Revolutionary War. They approached by the same route now adopted by the Federal Generals--namely, by way of James River to City Point, where an army was landed, under General Phillips, in

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1781, and marched into the city. The British, on that occasion, destroyed quantities of tobacco and burned down all the fences and many wooden buildings for fuel. While General Phillips lay ill of a bilious fever at Bolingbroke House, a private mansion which he had made his head-quarters, the Americans, under General La Fayette, cannonaded the town from Archer's-hill, on the side which is shown in our Engraving, directing their fire particularly against Bolingbroke House, in order to avenge the depredations of the "invaders," so that poor General Phillips--of whom Jefferson said, "he is the proudest man of the proudest nation upon earth"--was conveyed to the cellar for safety, where he exclaimed, "Won't they let me die in peace?" However, not the cannon-ball but the fever terminated his existence, and he was buried in Blandford churchyard. One week later Lord Cornwallis entered the town from Wilmington, on the south, by the same line on which the Federals are now threatening the town; and his Lordship fixed his head-quarters at Bolingbroke House. A great part of Petersburg stands on high ground, much exposed to the fire from neighbouring hills.

General Winfield Scott is a native of Petersburg.

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