Petersburg is an independent city in the Commonwealth of Virginia in the United States. As of the 2010 census, the population was 32,420. The Bureau of Economic Analysis combines Petersburg (along with the city of Colonial Heights) with Dinwiddie County for statistical purposes. It is located on the Appomattox River (a tributary of the longer larger James River flowing east to meet the southern mouth of the Chesapeake Bay at the Hampton Roads harbor and the Atlantic Ocean). The city is just 21 miles (34 km) south of the historic commonwealth (state) capital city of Richmond. The city's unique industrial past and its location as a transportation hub combined to create wealth for Virginia and the Middle Atlantic and Upper South regions of the nation.
Early in the colonial era of the 18th century, Petersburg was the final destination on the Upper Appomattox Canal Navigation System because of its location on the Appomattox River with its connection to the James River to the east at the Atlantic Seaboard fall line (the head of navigation of rivers on the U.S. East Coast) and the tying in with the James River shipping traffic was a strategic place for transportation and commercial activities. It connected commerce as far inland as Farmville, Virginia at the foothills of the Blue Ridge and the Appalachian Mountains chain, to shipping further east into the Chesapeake Bay and North Atlantic Ocean. For similar reasons, 17th century era Fort Henry was built at the order of the Virginia House of Burgesses at Petersburg in 1645 to protect the river traffic.
As railroads were being constructed and extended in the state in the 1830s and 1840s, Petersburg was developed as a major transfer point for both north-south and east-west competitors. The Petersburg Railroad, authorized in 1830, three years after the first American railway, the B.& O. in Baltimore, by the state legislstures of both Virginia and North Carolina to the south, which opened in 1833. It was another one of the earliest predecessors of the modern-day CSX Transportation system. Several of the earliest predecessors of the area's other major Class 1 railroad, the Norfolk Southern, also met at Petersburg. Access to railroads stimulated industry in the city, which was already established because of the water power available at the fall line, as the river plunged from the Piedmont level to lower tidewater lands.
During the American Civil War (1861-1865), because of this railroad network, Petersburg was key to Union plans to capture the Confederate States national capital established early in the war at Richmond. Nine months of trench warfare were conducted by Union forces during the 1864–65 Siege of Petersburg. Battlefield sites are located throughout the city and surrounding areas, partly preserved as Petersburg National Battlefield by the National Park Service of the U.S. Department of the Interior.
The city is also significant for its role in African-American history. Petersburg had one of the oldest free black settlements in the state at Pocahontas Island. 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 United States. In the 20th century, these and other black churches were leaders in the national Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s-1960s. In the post-bellum period, a historically black college which later developed as the Virginia State University was established nearby in Ettrick in Chesterfield County. Richard Bland College, now a junior college, was originally established here as a branch of Williamsburg's famed College of William and Mary.
Petersburg remains a transportation hub, with the network of area highways including Interstate Highways 85, 95, and 295, and U.S. Route highways with 1, 301, and 460. Both CSX and Norfolk Southern rail systems maintain transportation centers at Petersburg. Amtrak serves the city with daily Northeast Regional passenger trains to Norfolk, Virginia, and long-distance routes from states to the South.
In the early 21st century, Petersburg civic leaders were highlighting the city's historical attractions for heritage tourism, and the industrial sites reachable by the transportation infrastructure. Military activity has been expanded by the federal government at nearby Fort Lee, home of the United States Army's Sustainment Center of Excellence, and the Army's Logistics Branch, Ordnance, Quartermaster, and Transportation Corps.