Petersburg is an independent city in the U.S. state of Virginia. As of the 2010 census, the population was 32,420. The Bureau of Economic Analysis combines the City of Petersburg (along with the City of Colonial Heights) with Dinwiddie County for statistical purposes. It is located on the Appomattox River and south of the state capital of Richmond. 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.
During the American Civil War, because of the railroad network, Petersburg was key to Union plans to capture the Confederate capital at Richmond. The city saw nine months of trench warfare during the 1864-65 Siege of Petersburg. Battlefield sites are throughout the city and surrounding areas, partly preserved as Petersburg National Battlefield.
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 nation. In the 20th century, these and other black churches were leaders in the national Civil Rights Movement. In the post-bellum period, an historically black college which later became Virginia State University (VSU) was established nearby in Ettrick in Chesterfield County. Richard Bland College, now a junior college, was originally established as a branch of Williamsburg's College of William and Mary.
Petersburg remains a transportation hub, with the network of area highways include U.S. Interstate Highways 85, 95, and 295, and U.S. highways 1, 301, and 460. In the early 21st century, Petersburg leaders were highlighting the historical attractions for heritage tourism, and the industrial sites reachable by the transportation infrastructure. Military activity has expanded 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.