Friday, December 08, 2006

New and Noteworthy: The Civilians' Civil War in Petersburg, VA

Civil War Petersburg: Confederate City in the Crucible of War, A. Wilson Greene,
Hardcover, 384 pages, University of Virginia Press (Winter, 2007), ISBN: 0813925703

In the past ten years, the urban and civilian aspect of the American Civil War has started to be addressed. Gettysburg, Atlanta, New York City, Charleston, Washington, D.C., Richmond, Pittsburgh, and Knoxville have been received attention. Greene, historian working at Pamplin Park, Virginia and author of essays considering the character and memory Stonewall Jackson, addresses the urban wartime history of Peterburg, Virginia

Few wartime cities in Virginia held more importance than Petersburg. It's written history has lacked both an adequate military and civilian home front work. The noted Civil War historian A. Wilson Greene now provides an expertly researched and eloquently written study of the Virginia city that was second only to Richmond in size and strategic significance. Industrial, commercial, and extremely prosperous, Petersburg was 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 physically and environmentally damaging campaigns.

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 civilian administration. Employing unpublished sources, the book weaves a uniquely personal story of thousands of citizen-free blacks, slaves and their holders, factory owners, merchants-all of whom shared a singular experience in Civil War Virginia.

(Source: in part, Book Description,

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