At the beginning of the Civil War, Virginia had a black population of about 549,000. This meant that of the Confederacy's total black population 1 in every 6 blacks lived in Virginia. Of those African-Americans in Virginia 89% were slaves.
In Petersburg about half the population was black of which nearly 35% were free. Petersburg was considered to have the largest number of free blacks of any Southern city at that time. Many of the freedmen prospered here as barbers, blacksmiths, boatmen, draymen, livery stable keepers and caterers.
When Petersburg became a major supply center for the newly formed Confederacy and its nearby capital in Richmond, both freedmen and slaves were employed in various war functions. One of which was working for the numerous railroad companies that operated in and out of the city.
In 1862 Captain Charles Dimmock used freedmen and slave labor to construct a ten-mile long defensive line of trenches and batteries around the city. Nine and a half months, 70,000 casualties, the suffering of civilians, thousands of U. S. Colored Troops fighting for the freedom of their race, and the decline of Gen. Robert E. Lee's Army of No. Virginia all describe the Siege of Petersburg.
It was here Gen. Ulysses S. Grant cut off all of Petersburg's supply lines ensuring the fall of Richmond on April 3, 1865. Six days later, Lee surrendered.