Few wartime cities in Virginia held more importance than
Petersburg. Nonetheless, the city has, until now, lacked an
adequate military history, let alone a history of the civilian home
front. The noted Civil War historian A. Wilson Greene now provides
an expertly researched, eloquently written study of the city that
was second only to Richmond in size and strategic significance.
Industrial, commercial, and extremely prosperous, Petersburg was
also home to a large African American community, including the
state's highest percentage of free blacks. On the eve of the Civil
War, the city elected a conservative, pro-Union approach to the
sectional crisis. Little more than a month before Virginia's
secession did Petersburg finally express pro-Confederate
sentiments, at which point the city threw itself wholeheartedly
into the effort, with large numbers of both white and black men
serving. Over the next four years, Petersburg's citizens watched
their once-beautiful city become first a conduit for transient
soldiers from the Deep South, then an armed camp, and finally the
focus of one of the Civil War's most protracted and damaging
campaigns. (The fall of Richmond and collapse of the Confederate
war effort in Virginia followed close on Grant's ultimate success
in Petersburg.) At war's end, Petersburg's antebellum prosperity
evaporated under pressures from inflation, chronic shortages, and
the extensive damage done by Union artillery shells. Greene's book
tracks both Petersburg's civilian experience and the city's place
in Confederate military strategy and administration. Employing
scores of unpublished sources, the book weaves a uniquely personal
story of thousands of citizens--free blacks, slaves and their
holders, factory owners, merchants--all of whom shared a singular
experience in Civil War Virginia.
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