History Podcasts

Petersburg

Petersburg

After the Wilderness Campaign (May-June, 1864), Ulysses S. Grant and the Army of the Potomac headed for the port of Petersburg on the Appomattox River. Robert E. Lee and the Confederate Army quickly retreated to Petersburg as it was considered vital to hold this town in order to protect Richmond. The Union Army suffered heavy losses at the end of July, 1864, trying to take the port but was eventually able to cut off Lee's supplies from the lower South.

In March, 1865, William Sherman joined Ulysses S. Grant and the main army at Petersburg. On 1st April Sherman attacked at Five Forks. The Confederates, led by Major General George Pickett, were overwhelmed and lost 5,200 men. On hearing the news, Robert E. Lee decided to abandon Richmond and join Joseph E. Johnston in South Carolina. Petersburg fell on 3rd April, 1865 and the Union Army entered Richmond later the same day.


Petersburg

Ulysses S. Grant’s assault on Robert E. Lee’s armies at Petersburg failed to capture the Confederacy’s vital supply center and resulted in the longest siege in American warfare.

How it ended

Although the Confederates held off the Federals in the Battle of Petersburg, Grant implemented a siege of the city that lasted for 292 days and ultimately cost the South the war.

In context

General Ulysses S. Grant’s inability to capture Richmond or destroy the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia during the Overland Campaign (May 4–June 12, 1864) caused him to cast his glance toward the critical southern city of Petersburg. His strategic goals shifted from the defeat of Robert E. Lee's army in the field to eliminating the supply and communication routes to the Confederate capital at Richmond.

The city of Petersburg, 24 miles south of Richmond, was the junction point of five railroads that supplied the entire upper James River region. Capturing this important transportation hub would isolate the Confederate capital and force Gen. Robert E. Lee to either evacuate Richmond or fight the numerically superior Grant on open ground.

From June 15–18, 1864, Confederate general Beauregard and his troops, though outnumbered by the Federals, saved Petersburg from Union capture. The late appearance of Lee’s men ended the Federals’ hopes of taking the city by storm and ensured a lengthy siege. For the next nine months, Grant focused on severing Petersburg’s many wagon and rail connections to the south and west. He eventually attacked and crippled Lee’s forces, forcing the South to surrender at Appomattox on April 9, 1865.

After the crushing Union defeat at Cold Harbor, Grant uses stealth and deception to shift his army south of the James River. His troops begin crossing the river both on transports and a brilliantly engineered 2,200-foot-long pontoon bridge at Windmill Point on June 14. By the morning of June 15, Grant is ready to launch his attack.

Standing in his way is the Dimmock Line, a series of 55 artillery batteries and connected infantry earthworks that form a 10-mile arc around the city. However, with Lee still defending Richmond, a scratch force of only 2,200 soldiers under Confederate general P. G. T. Beauregard stand guard in Petersburg’s eastern defenses—from Battery 1 on the Appomattox River to Battery 16 nearly three miles to the south.

June 15. Union general William F. "Baldy" Smith cautiously leads his Eighteenth Corps westward from City Point. Smith delays his assault until 7:00 p.m., expecting the momentary arrival of Gen. Winfield S. Hancock’s Second Corps. Once under way, the Union attack proves anti-climactic. Federal troops gain the rear of Battery 5, throwing the defenders from the Twenty-sixth Virginia and a single battery of artillery into a panic. Batteries 3 through 8 also fall. Batteries 6 through 11 are captured by U.S. Colored Troops, commanded by Brig. Gen. Edward Hinks. Colonel Joseph Kiddoo, commanding the Twenty-second U.S. Colored Troops, later notes in his report that the “officers and men behaved in such a manner as to give me great satisfaction and the fullest confidence in the fighting qualities of colored troops.” After dark, Smith, joined at last by Hancock, decides to postpone further offensive action until dawn.

June 16. The Union Second Corps capture another section of the Confederate line. The Confederates lose Batteries 12 through 14.

June 17. The Union Ninth Corps gains more ground, but the fight is poorly coordinated. That night, Beauregard digs a new line of defense closer to Petersburg that meets up with the Dimmock Line at Battery 25, and Lee rushes reinforcements from other elements of the Army of Northern Virginia.

June 18. The Union Second, Ninth, and Fifth Corps attack but are repulsed with heavy casualties. The 850 men of the First Maine Heavy Artillery advance across a cornfield and straight into Confederate fire. Supporting units fail to protect their flanks. Within ten minutes, 632 men lay dead or wounded on the field. It is the largest regimental loss of the entire Civil War. With Confederate works now heavily manned, the opportunity to capture Petersburg without a siege is lost.

After four days of fighting with no success, Grant begins siege operations. Grant’s strategy is to surround Petersburg and cut off Lee’s supply route to the South. As he attacks Petersburg, other Union troops simultaneously attack around Richmond, which strains the Confederacy to the breaking point. During the 10 months of the siege, both armies endure skirmishing, mortar and artillery fire, poor rations, and intense boredom. By February 1865, Lee has only 45,000 soldiers to oppose Grant’s 110,000. Grant continues to order attacks and cut off rail lines. On April 2, Union forces launch an all-out assault that cripples Lee’s army. That evening, Grant evacuates Petersburg. Lee surrenders to Grant at Appomattox Court House a week later.

Captain Charles Dimmock of the Confederate Corps of Engineers designed the impressive ten-mile trench line that stretched around Petersburg in a "U" shape and was anchored on the southern bank of the Appomattox River. The fortifications held 55 artillery batteries and the walls reached as high as 40 feet in some areas.

Work on the defense line began in the summer of 1862. Under the orders of Maj. Gen. Daniel H. Hill, Dimmock used soldiers and enslaved laborers to execute the plan. Some 264 enslaved people from Virginia's Eastern Shore and more than 1,000 from North Carolina dug the fortifications. But progress on the defenses was continually hampered by a shortage in manpower. By December 1862, Dimmock asked the Petersburg Common Council for "200 negroes" to perform more labor. The slaves were "to report each morning upon the work … at eight o'clock [and] to be dismissed and permitted to return home at 4 p.m.," which he saw as a means to preserve the slaves' health from "nefarious discomfort and exposure of camp life."

Labor on the Dimmock Line continued through the rest of 1863. Captain Dimmock wrote that by late in July 1863, the Dimmock Line was "not entirely completed, but sufficiently so for all defensive purposes." Due to movements by Union troops late in the spring of 1864, work stopped on the Dimmock Line. Though incomplete, the fortifications were an initial obstacle to Union troops as they descended on Petersburg in June 1864. But once the city was under siege by the Federals, the trenches of the Dimmock Line proved to be as much of a prison as a protection for the exhausted and hungry Confederate troops trapped there throughout the winter.

African Americans served as soldiers and laborers for both the Union and Confederate armies in the battle and siege at Petersburg. Petersburg was considered to have the largest number of free Blacks of any Southern city at that time. About half of the city’s the population was Black of which nearly 35 percent were free. Before the battle and siege of Petersburg, both freedmen and slaves were employed in various war functions, including working for the numerous railroad companies that supplied the South.

Once the siege began in June 1864, African Americans continued working for the Confederacy. In September of that year, Confederate general Robert E. Lee asked for an additional 2,000 Blacks to be added to his labor force. In March 1865, as white manpower in the army dwindled, the desperate Confederacy called for 40,000 slaves to become an armed force. A notice in the April 1, 1865, Petersburg Daily Express read, "To the slave is offered freedom and undisturbed residences at their old homes in the Confederacy after the war. Not freedom of sufferance, but honorable and self won by the gallantry and devotion which grateful countrymen will never cease to remember and reward." However, the war ended soon after this offer was made.


Battle of Petersburg begins

During the Civil War, Ulysses S. Grant’s Army of the Potomac and Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia collide for the last time as the first wave of Union troops attacks Petersburg, a vital Southern rail center 23 miles south of the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia. The two massive armies would not become disentangled until April 9, 1865, when Lee surrendered and his men went home.

In June 1864, in a brilliant tactical maneuver, Grant marched his army around the Army of Northern Virginia, crossed the James River unopposed, and advanced his forces to Petersburg. Knowing that the fall of Petersburg would mean the fall of Richmond, Lee raced to reinforce the city’s defenses. The mass of Grant’s army arrived first. On June 15, the first day of the Battle of Petersburg, some 10,000 Union troops under General William F. Smith moved against the Confederate defenders of Petersburg, made up of only a few thousand armed old men and boys commanded by General P.G.T. Beauregard. However, the Confederates had the advantage of formidable physical defenses, and they held off the overly cautious Union assault. The next day, more Federal troops arrived, but Beauregard was reinforced by Lee, and the Confederate line remained unbroken during several Union attacks occurring over the next two days.

By June 18, Grant had nearly 100,000 at his disposal at Petersburg, but the 20,000 Confederate defenders held on as Lee hurried the rest of his Army of Northern Virginia into the entrenchments. Knowing that further attacks would be futile, but satisfied to have bottled up the Army of Northern Virginia, Grant’s army dug trenches and began a prolonged siege of Petersburg.

Finally, on April 2, 1865, with his defense line overextended and his troops starving, Lee’s right flank suffered a major defeat against Union cavalry under General Phillip Sheridan, and Grant ordered a general attack on all fronts. The Army of Northern Virginia retreated under heavy fire the Confederate government fled Richmond on Lee’s recommendation and Petersburg, and then Richmond, fell to the Union. Less than a week later, Grant’s massive army headed off the remnants of the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox Station, and Lee was forced to surrender, effectively ending the Civil War.


THE HISTORY OF ST PETERSBURG RUSSIA

To learn more about the history of St Petersburg in Russia please click on the links below or just scroll down the mouse to the bottom of this page. Happy reading! 

Russia before peter the great

The history of St Petersburg and Russia goes back about 1200 years.

Before Peter the Great ,  Russia was considered to be a backward and barbaric country in the eyes of the major powers in Europe. According to the legend in 862 the people living east of the Baltic invited Varangians  (i.e. Scandinavians) who organized the state and established the Rurik dynasty. The dynasty ruled Russia for 700 years.

Then he came to Lake Ilmen and built there a town that he called Novgorod, today an emerging tourist attraction located outside the city. Although the capital of Russia moved to Kyev in the 10th Century, Novgorod retained its dominance over the north-west of the country, controlling the borders with the northern neighbors of Russia.

In 1223 an “unknown enemy” fell upon Russia. The Mongols, united under Genghis Khan, had already subjugated a large part of Asia and were now moving against Europe. Novgorod was untouched by the invasion, so the culture in the north continued to develop. Fortresses and monasteries were built.

Ivan the Terrible’s suppression of Novgorodian freedoms in the 16th century weakened Russia’s position in the Baltic Basin. The Livonian War and Swedish intervention of the early 1600s robbed Russia of its access to the Baltic Sea.

However , after the rule of Peter the Great, this view changed and Russia was no longer seen as a backward nation stuck in medieval times, but rather as a major player in the balance of power in Europe.

The history of St Petersburg continue below.

The foundation of saint petersburg

The construction of St. Petersburg was ordered by Peter the Great, designed by different foreigne architects, and then built almost entirely by thousands of serfs but before that, the Northern war occurred and this was the reason the city was built.

Perhaps many people do not know that the history of St Petersburg started with a war that broke out between Sweden and Russia .

In the past, these countries fought for very convenient lands which allowed  Peter the Great to  get an outlet to the Baltic Sea and thus enabling access to trading routes leading to Europe. Though the Swedes occupied half of Europe at this time, they did not manage to overcome the strong opposition and suffered a defeat in 1721.

However, during this so-called Northern War against Sweden, Russia needed a strategic point not too far from the place where the Swedish opposition was. Since the early 17th century there was a fortress called Nyenskans at the mouth of the Okhta River.

This Swedish structure was dangerous for Russia when the war began.

Accordingly, Peter the Great ordered the construction of the Peter and Paul Fortress that is now situated in the middle of the city on Zayachiy Ostrov  (The Hare's Island - today an important tourist attraction). Soon after he also named this city "Sankt Petersburg".

The first cobblestone of the new capital, which was open to the sea winds and European trends, was laid on May 27, 1703. At first, there were only fortifications of stone and bricks in the middle of a swamp, but the future Russian city under the cover of the Peter and Paul Fortress was able to flourish and develop quickly.

Numerous Russian and foreign architect s such as Domenico Trezzini, Jean-Baptiste Leblond, Bartolomeo Rastrelli, and many other people, took part in Peter's project and worked on building the city according to European standards. In fact, Tsar Peter dreamed of constructing a kind of "Northern Venice" with a lot of water and bridges.

The work of these qualified people which led to the style that would later be called the Russian Baroque is today magnificently visible. Also, along with those foreign architects who designed the general layout of the center, it is important to remember that there were more than 15.000 artisans from various Russian regions who, brought here by force in 1710, helped to build the first part of the city - Vasilevsky Island, and years later, all the rest.

The history of St Petersburg continue below.

The ongoing development of the city

The history of St. Petersburg Russia is mainly marked by the reigns of two great empresses: Elizabeth and Catherine II. Their reign lasted for 50 years, ending as the 18th century drew to a close. Both have followed the deeds of Peter the Great!

A pause in the city's development followed the death of Peter the Great on January 28, 1725. This event brought the capital of Russia back to Moscow and the city of Peter I began to decay. But when Anna Ioannovna was enthroned, the status of Russian Capital returned to the imperial city again.

This first empress Anna Ioannovna (1693-1740) tried to be seen as the follower of Peter's ideas.

During her reign, the city was divided into five parts, the center was moved to the Admiralty Island and three now- famous thoroughfares that began near the Admiralty, namely Nevsky Prospekt, Median Prospekt (now Gorokhovaya street), and Voznesenky Prospekt, were completed.

However, it was clear that during the time of Peter and Anna, St. Petersburg had been built purely for pragmatic reasons. Basically, to protect Russia from the Swedish attacks.

That said, in the beginning, only a few large stone buildings existed and the decoration of the imperial city was not so important.਋ut during the reign of Elizabeth Petrovna (1741-1761), who ascended to the throne in 1741 after Peter I, Russia was brought back to the custom of doing things by means of the Russian people and the majestic buildings, worthy of the capital, started to appear.

In fact, in this period the Russian baroque style was presented in masterpieces such as the Winter Palace, Smolny Cathedral, St. Vladimir's Cathedral, and Anichkov Palace. Today, all these remarkable sites have become an important tourist attraction, and many of them are listed in the top attractions of the city, so they are a must-see for first-time visitors.

After the reign of Elizabeth of Russia, a second brilliant time for the development of St. Petersburg as well as for the whole country, began in the reign of Catherine II also known as Catherine the Great (1762-1796), when Russia conquered the Crimea and the northern shores of the Baltic sea, regained the Russian regions of Poland and joined Kurland.

History says that when Catherine II acceded to the throne there were about 60.000 inhabitants in Saint Petersburg.

After 30 years, the Russian population of the capital increased to 230.000. It was during her reign that the intensive construction of stone buildings started and a new Classicism style was established.

Such stunning buildings and today important tourist attractions as the Academy of Fine Arts (by Yury Felten), the Gostiny Dvor (by Jean-Baptiste Vallin de la Mothe), the Marble Palace (by Antonio Rinaldi), the Old Hermitage Museum (by Yury Felten), the Taurida Palace (by Ivan Starov), the Smolny Institute (by Giacomo Quarenghi), the main Admiralty building (by Andreayan Zakharov), the Stock Exchange (by Thomas de Thomson), and the Kazan Cathedral (by Andrey Voronikhim) were all constructed during her reign.

Today anyone can visit and take photos of all of these amazing historical sites as they all have been well preserved! If you are interested in a private guided tour to any of the places mentioned above feel free to contact us.

The history of St Petersburg continue below.

St petersburg in the golden age of russian art

This century has been a blossoming and pleasant time for Russia, though there have been some wars and social issues in between. However, the worst was yet to come!

The XVIII century is considered the golden age of Russian art, including architecture. Isaac's and Kazan Cathedrals, Mariinsky and Mikhailovsky Palaces, the Saviour on the Spilt Blood Church, the famous monument to Peter the Great – the Bronze Horseman - and many other splendid architectural monuments were built at this time. Today you can visit all of these places as they are open to the public and they are considered as the most appealing city attractions.

With those tsars, the city began to acquire specific features preserved until this day: straight streets, strict style of structures, and building density. Developers were required to follow precisely established street lines. Only canopies above the entrances, balconies, and bay windows could stick out of the facade line.

At that time apartment houses multiplied rapidly, in addition to luxurious private mansions. The owners of the apartment houses rented rooms to poor people. Trying to get the maximum income, every owner made his building as dense as possible without any concern about how it would affect the sanitary condition of the city.

The high building density, as well as the abundance of dark and damp courtyards, became a common feature of many neighborhoods of St. Petersburg. This is especially seen near Sennaya Square and Kolomna, where the characters of writer F. Dostoevsky’s “Crime and Punishment” lived.

This Russian city was at its best and growing fast until the First World War began and the social issues started to arise in the city, primarily a gap between the upper class and the working class.

The history of St Petersburg continue below.

The 1905 red revolution and the outbreak of wwi

The contradictions in social life that had been growing alongside the wars in Russia were ended with the Democratic Revolution (1905-1907).

In the early 1900s, during the reign of the last tsar Nicholas II , St. Petersburg was renamed Petrograd. Russia was at war with the Japanese and a convertible ruble was introduced as part of Count Witte’s reforms as Finance Minister.

Political parties appeared, social discontent arose, and the war with Japan which led to a humiliating defeat caused the birth of several strikes. Not long after this, the 1905 revolution occurred as a response to the consequences of ill-considered reforms.

To tackle this bad situation, on the 17 October 1905 Nicholas II, at last, tried to sign a manifesto granting civil liberties and an elected parliament (Duma), but the manifesto saying "God, help us, pacify Russia!" came too late. Armed uprisings, that included soldiers and sailors, erupted across the empire. The brutal manner with which they were put down brought the Social Democratic Party (Bolsheviks) thousands upon thousands of new members and hastened the disintegration of the army.

This led to the end of the Russian autocracy and the defeat of the Russian troops on all fronts in the early years of the First World War.

The history of St Petersburg continue below.

The 1917 bolsheviks revolution

The call to do something by Bolshevik leader Lenin was simple and understandable. That's why he made it, and millions of Russians joined the revolution in 1917.

Russia’s enemies in the First World War did everything possible to completely undermine the economy of the empire. The countryside was depopulated. Petrograd (the name of Saint Petersburg in 1914-1924) was starving, and so the situation got out of control very quickly.

A committee of the Duma formed a new, provisional government . But while WWI still went on, the new government proved incapable of solving any of the country’s pressing problems.

Vladimir Lenin , then in exile in Zurich, sent a message about what should be the aims of the proletariat - peace for the nation, bread and complete freedom - and gave his party a strategic advantage. 

So Lenin's message, plus the civil war and the confused medley in the life of Russia as well as crises in economic, political, and social life, contributed to the so-called 1917 October revolution led by the Bolsheviks headed by Lenin.

This Russian revolution turned the political system of Russia on its head, and put an end to the Tsars' dynasty, marking at the same time the beginning of what was going to be called the Soviet Times.

The history of St Petersburg continue below.

Petrograd - leningrad (1918-1941)

It is astonishing how the city of Peter retained its name "Leningrad" for nearly seventy years, though Lenin's era did not last this long.

The victory of the Bolsheviks in October 1917 demanded enormous sacrifices. The brilliant tactics of Lenin and his supporters were founded on an idealistic economic strategy.

At the same time, any efforts to restore the monarchy were violently suppressed in accordance with Lenin’s program. The Soviet republic was destined to usher in the dictatorship of the proletariat and then “Stalin’s empire”.

Despite the difficult time, there was still life in the city. Even in the extremely hard years a new film studio “Lenfilm” was set up in Petrograd (1918), the House of Books opened on  Nevsky Prospekt  (still open up to now and in our view a good place to go for buying books or enjoy a cup of coffee or tea), and the World Literature Publishing House was founded.

Also, the look of St. Petersburg changed. The field of Mars was transformed into a garden laid out to the drawing of Ivan Fomin. The granite monument to the revolutionaries who perished during the street clashes was erected in the middle of the square to the design of Lev Rudnev, and so forth.

Vladimir Lenin, the leader of the Bolshevist Party, died in 1924 and his followers, the Bolsheviks, who were the government at that time, renamed the city Leningrad "to commemorate Lenin's name".

By 1941 the city had become one of the world’s greatest cultural and scientific centers, where prominent figures like Pavlov and Ioffe, Prokofiev, and Shostakovich, Kozintsev and Trauberg lived and worked. New research institutes, housing areas and bridges were built.

In fact, the new districts of Avtovo, Moskovsky Avenue, and Malaya Okhta were all developed. So, the development of Saint Petersburg restarted, though in a different way, but was interrupted again with the beginning of WWII.

The history of St Petersburg continue below.

War and siege

The 900-day siege that cost the lives of hundreds of thousands of civilians and servicemen has gone down in world history as an unparalleled display of heroic human dedication and determination.

If you still don't know the Great Patriotic War (the name of WWII for Russians) against Germany caused immense suffering for the whole country, and in particular for St. Petersburg.

German Orders Dated 29 September 1941 Said:

The Fuhrer has decided to erase the city of Leningrad from the face of the Earth. Our side has no interest in the preservation of even part of the population of the city… It is proposed to tightly blockade the city and use artillery fire of all calibers and constant aerial bombing to raze it to the ground…”.

But the city was preparing not to surrender, but to fight, and they finally won.

The Siege of Leningrad was the hardest period for the city during WWII. It lasted from September 8, 1941, till January 27, 1944 - about 900 days and nights of hunger, pain, bombs, and killing.

However, by fighting for Leningrad Russia, the citizens managed to keep the enemy away from the imperial city, although at a very short distance. This went beyond the call of duty and saved hundreds of thousands of lives, although of course many perished.

Today , you can find many war memorials in the city that commemorate the ones who died in order to let St. Petersburg live. You can also visit the memorial ensembles created in their memory in the 1960s at Piskarevskye and Seraphimovskoe cemeteries, including Sosnovka Park , where we now offer an informal bike tour.

Personally speaking, those war memorials are a must-stop for a first-time visitor as only this way you may get a feeling of the history of St Petersburg of that time.

The history of St Petersburg continue below.

Risen from the ruins

The history of St Petersburg says that a huge task was ahead for many Russians after the war with the Nazis. Honestly speaking, this was true! In fact, the work of rebuilding the city of Peter I started a few days after the end of the siege.

After the war against the Nazis , years of shelling and bombing, Leningrad was reduced to ruins. The city was pretty much destroyed!

In 1944, when the Siege was fully lifted, there was not one significant building unaffected by fire or bomb damage. All of the suburban palaces and parks were ruined. Yet by 1949 , the city’s industry had reached pre-war levels and factories and housing had been converted to gas. The major palaces and museums reopened one after another.

In 1955 the first line of St Petersburg Metro began working. By the mid-1950s, after only 10 years, Leningrad was again one of the world’s architectural and cultural gems.

The history of St Petersburg continue below.

LENINGRAD - ST PETERSBURG (1990 - TODAY)

The end of the 20th century was marked with important and enormous changes in the history of St Petersburg, as for all Russia. In 1991, the name of Saint Petersburg was returned to this city. In 1994, it became the place of the Goodwill Games, while today it has become a superpower.

In brief , by the mid- 1980s, the Communist Party came up against the catastrophic consequences of its own incompetent economic policies in the previous decade. This led to new reforms aimed at improving social conditions by controlling a position in its Central Committee.

Funds previously allocated to development were now used to increase wages, but later this led to serious inflation. So by the late 1980s the Soviet Union reached boiling point, causing the city in the early 1990s to fall apart. Leningrad, like the rest of the country, was then gripped by election fever. In 1991 the city recovered its historical name and a new decade of austerity and poverty across the whole country called Perestroika (proposed by Leonid Brezhnev in 1979 and actively promoted by Mikhail Gorbachev) toke place.

By the mid-1990s, the attempt to open the country to the free market with new radical reforms led to an economic collapse, political crisis, and to Russian cities crumbling wherever you looked. The return of the city’s glorious former name did nothing for the evolution of culture, science, or learning.

Only  in the late 1990s pragmatism gradually gained the upper hand over political idealism, producing some results. In fact, a few years later the growth of business, political, and cultural life was gradually emerging. And, by its 300th anniversary in 2003, the city started to grow and develop intensively, becoming the brilliant capital of the great Russian Empire that it is considered today.

The new change and growth of the country occurred thanks to the strongest and pragmatic leadership of Vladimir Putin who imposed suitable political, social, and economic reforms at the right time and place. It took more than t wo decades to get where Saint Petersburg is at present, but luckily the city made it and has become a really nice place to visit, live, and work, and we hope it will last as long as possible.

Lastly, we believe that the history of St Petersburg will be always imprinted on the memory of many Russian people for generations to come. Because the history of this Russian city includes many dramatic political, historical, and economic events, which have marked and changed the lives of millions of Russians right up to today.

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Historic Districts

Petersburg is one of the oldest cities in Virginia, dating back to 1750. The City of Petersburg has designated seven (7) local historic districts encompassing over 6,500 acres of land and including over 700 buildings.

OLD TOWNE HISTORIC DISTRICT

The Old Towne Historic District encompasses three distinct areas. The original town – laid out as half acre lots along the Appomattox River – was originally centered around what was called “River”, “Main”, and “Old” Street throughout its life, until changed to “Grove Avenue” early in the 20th century. It contains the largest number of 18th century buildings of any neighborhood in the city. Many of Petersburg’s famed craftsmen, including wheelwrights, cabinet makers, chair makers, and house painters, built their homes on this street. These early houses have survived in record numbers. The adjoining streets of Cross, Hurt, Canal and Plum contain a number of one-story frame workers’ cottages.

In 1762, the town expanded up the hill to include a second development known as “New Town” or “High Street”. Located on the high ground overlooking “Old Town” (Grove Avenue) and the Appomattox River basin, the street was originally laid out in 28 one-acre lots. Here many of Petersburg’s most notable houses were built during the 18th and 19th centuries. The city’s oldest structure known as the Young Ladies Boarding House was under construction in 1763, merely a year following the inception of New Town. Over the next 150 years, the other remaining lots were developed with Georgian and Palladian dwellings, federal townhouses, Greek Revival mansions, and an array of Italianate and Second Empire houses. A walk along this street is to step into a textbook of colonial, antebellum and Victorian architecture.

On the eastern edge of the district is the commercial development constructed largely following a disastrous fire of 1815. It features many three-story brick row buildings including the Appomattox Iron Works complex and the former Maclin-McGill Zimmer Tobacco Factory, now elderly and handicapped housing. Today, this is the heart of Petersburg’s commercial district. The broad range of building types in this district – from the modest 18th century houses of Grove Avenue, to the mansions of High Street and the federal townhouses and stores of downtown – makes this area one of the most varied and exciting historic neighborhoods in the Commonwealth of Virginia.


History

Fishing boats unloading
© Seaprints Photography

The History and Demographics of Petersburg, Alaska

Tlingit hunters and fishermen used the area surrounding Petersburg at least 2,000 years ago, and at low tide you can walk among the remains of their ancient fish traps and petroglyphs near town. Alaska Natives still comprise over 10% of the population. A federally recognized tribe is located in the community. A pair of totem poles, at the corner of Haugen and Nordic Drives, tell the story of the Tlingit ancestors traveling down the Stikine River to settle and live in the area.

In 1897, Norwegian pioneer Peter Buschmann arrived, and seeing that the clear, clean ice from LeConte Glacier could be used to pack fish, built the Icy Strait Packing Company cannery, a sawmill, and a dock. His family’s homesteads grew into Petersburg, populated largely by people of Scandinavian descent. By 1920, 600 people lived in Petersburg year-round. During this time fresh salmon and halibut were packed in glacial ice for shipment. Alaska’s first shrimp processor, Alaskan Glacier Seafoods, was founded by Earl Ohmer in 1916. A cold storage plant was built by Knut Thompson in 1926. Petersburg’s first cannery has operated continuously since, and is now known as Petersburg Fisheries, a subsidiary of Icicle Seafoods, Inc. Petersburg is one of the premier fishing ports in Alaska and the U.S.

Petersburg cannery
© Clausen Museum

The busy, bustling town of Petersburg was incorporated April 20, 1910. The population has remained stable with fishing and the fishing industry still the main source of income. About 3,100 people live here year-round, with seasonal variation due to summertime cannery workers, deckhands and fishermen. Nearly 50,000 tourists visit Petersburg each year.

Petersburg Totem Pole
© US Forest Service

The commercial fishing industry is the community’s largest employer, with others in retail business, borough, state and federal agencies, visitor industry and logging.

Aspects of both Norwegian and Tlingit cultures still figure prominently in community activities, and fishing remains a staple for the local economy.


Revolutionary & heroic city

Like in Moscow, war and poverty meant there was increasing discontent under the imperial government. The city was the epicentre of several revolutions that would change the course of the entire country: while the Russian Empire expanded during the Napoleonic Wars, at home there were uprisings and the assassinations of leaders throughout the 19th century.

Saint Petersburg was at the forefront of some of the most important social and political movements of the 20th century, starting with the Revolution of 1905, kicked off by the infamous event known as "Bloody Sunday" when unarmed working-class demonstrators were fired on by Tsarist forces. Numerous uprisings and revolts lead to the creation of the Russian Constitution of 1906 and the proclamation of the Tsar as Supreme Leader.

Discontent continued to snowball, especially with the appalling conditions that soldiers were subjected to during the First World War, and in February 1917 a workers' strike took place in Petrograd, marking the beginning of a revolution in which Lenin's Bolshevik Party would take the lead. The October Storming of the Winter Palace ending with the creation of Soviet Russia and the triggering of the Russian Civil War. In 1918, Moscow was made capital city again.

World War II saw Nazi Germany begin its Siege of Leningrad, one of the longest and most destructive sieges in history, a military blockade during which much of the population starved to death. The city wasn't liberated until 1944, and in 1945 it was granted the title of Hero City in commemoration of the struggle.

The post-war and Soviet era saw the rebuilding and recovery of Leningrad: the metro opened in 1955 and the population began to grow again.

Discover more about the revolution and the Soviet era in the city on our Russian Revolution Tour of St Petersburg.


Today in History the Battle of Petersburg began (1864)

The American Civil War was entering its last phase, in 1864. General Ulysses S Grant, of the Union Army and General Robert E Lee of the Confederate Army, had fought many battles against each other. Lee, had defeated many Union Generals, but he met his match in Grant. The Union General carefully used his superior numbers to inflict many casualties on the Confederate army.

Grant and his army fought with Lee and his Confederates in Northern Virgina. This area became the epicentre of the war. Lee was determined to protect the Confederate capital from Grant&rsquos Union army.

In 1864 Ulysses S. Grant&rsquos Army of the Potomac and Robert E. Lee&rsquos Army of Northern Virginia fought each other at the critical battle at Petersburg. The Union army was intent on seizing Petersburg as it was a very important railway hub. If they could seize it then the Confederate supply lines would be effectively cut and Richmond would be vulnerable to Union artillery.

Map of the battle of Petersburg June 1864

On June 14 th the Union army under Grant&rsquos direction marched around the Army of Virginia and outflanked Lee&rsquos forces. The Union army arrived at Petersburg and they were only some twenty miles from Richmond, which was the capital of the Confederacy. Lee had only twenty thousand men, while Grant had some 100,000 men. It appeared that Grant would march on Richmond. However, Lee devised a brilliant strategy and he managed to withstand the apparently endless Union assaults. General Beauregard arrived with reinforcements for Lee and the Confederate lines held despite the assaults. The Confederates had dug a series of entrenchments around Petersburg and they were in effect under siege form the Union forces. Eventually, Grant was forced to withdraw after sustaining heavy casualties. Lee had saved the Confederate Capital.

General Grant consulting with President Abraham Lincon (1864)

However, he only delayed the inevitable at Petersburg in June 1864. Lee and his army was now effectively bottled up in Northern Virginia and he was cut off from the rest of the Confederacy and was unable to secure enough supplies and his men began to starve. There was to be a second battle of Petersburg in the following year. In April 1865 the two rival armies fought each other over several weeks. Petersburg was some twenty miles from the Confederate Capital and if Petersburg fell then it would almost certainly fall. Lee managed to defend the site, despite coming under attack from a larger Union force. The two armies battered each other for nine days. Grant had a larger army and began to inflict terrible losses on Lee&rsquos army. Finally, Grant was able to turn the right flank of the Confederate lines and the Southern army went into full retreat.

The Confederate government fled Richmond on Lee&rsquos advice. Grant was able to occupy Petersburg and later was able to march on Richmond and captured it with only minimal resistance. A week later the Union army was able to encircle Lee and the remnants of the Confederate army and forced them to surrender at Appomattox.


Early Baseball Days

Professional baseball's spring training had first come to Florida as early as 1888 in Jacksonville, but it was civic boosters in St. Petersburg who made "Grapefruit League" action an institution. The city's first game was played on February 27, 1914. The hosting St. Louis Browns lost to the Chicago Cubs, who were training in Tampa and made the trip by steamboat across Tampa Bay. Al Lang, a former Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, launderer, moved to St. Petersburg in 1909 and soon became mayor. Lang, a baseball fan, enticed the Philadelphia Phillies to St. Petersburg in 1915. When Philadelphia got off to a rousing start back north for the regular season, St. Petersburg's good spring weather got much of the credit. City leaders later named their baseball stadium after Lang.


History of St. Petersburg Russia

St. Petersburg was founded on May 16 (new calendar: May 27) 1703, when Peter the Great seized control of the land surrounding the Neva during a protracted war with Sweden. A simple log cabin – the city’s first living quarters – was constructed on the city’s fortress (Peter and Paul Fortress) shortly after this victory. Despite the settlement’s unpromising location – a swamp – and unforgiving climate, Peter pursued his dream of a northern capital. In a typically Russian paradox, the city that would later become a symbol of cosmopolitan, enlightened Europe was founded in the cruellest of conditions. Its builders, primarily peasants and soliders, were driven hard many died as a result of Peter’s manic work schedule. Even the city’s first white-collar workers were ordered there, and they weren’t very happy about it, either. In 1712 St. Petersburg became the capital and people started coming on their own account. From around 1741, the beginning of Empress Elizabeth’s reign, Peter’s swamp was simply the place to be. The courts of the empresses were graced by the best European artistic, literary and musical talent, and foreign architects, mainly Italian, built fantastic palaces and awe-inspiring churches. St. Petersburg, envisaged by Peter as Russia’s ‘Window to the West’, finally fulfilled its earlier promise.

During the nineteenth century the city assumed an almost mythical status courtesy of the many writers, some of them great, who lived there. Fyodor Dostoevsky is perhaps most synonymous with St. Petersburg. Here’s what he had to say (through one of his characters:) about it: ‘there’s nothing you can’t find in St. Petersburg.’ He was probably right. Nikolai Gogol, another significant Russian (or more precisely, Ukrainian) writer, came to St. Petersburg to work as a public servant, and developed a special loathing – teamed with morbid fascination – for the city. About St. Petersburg’s main street he moaned: “Oh, do not trust this Nevsky Prospect! I always wrap myself more tightly in my cloak when I walk along it and absolutely try not to look at the objects which meet me". Gogol’s friend, otherwise known as Alexander Pushkin, was also a St. Petersburg resident when he was in the mood among other things, he wrote a very dramatic poem, The Bronze Horseman, about one of the city’s devastating floods.

The emergence of a city of world significance and the concomitant cultural boom was accompanied by less pleasant, but important historical events. In December 1825, inspired by European ideals of freedom, a group of soldiers (called ‘Decembrists’) rebelled against the new emperor, Nicholas I. Nicholas didn’t pay much attention, other than to have the organisers of the revolt executed or exiled, and to adopt extremely conservative government policies. The emancipation of the serfs in 1861 under Alexander II was another watershed event – thousands of serfs poured into the city, which wasn’t ready for such an influx living conditions worsened, as did the population’s tolerance. By the end of the nineteenth century, social conditions hadn’t improved much but St. Petersburg was well on the path to Western-style industrialization.

The first significant event of twentieth-century St. Petersburg was the 1905-7 revolution, sparked by the events of bloody Sunday, when workers protesting on Palace Square were fired upon by soldiers. In response to this revolution the Russian Duma was created. It was met with enthusiasm, but its welcome was short-lived. Russia’s unsuccessful World War I campaign increased social unrest, and by 1917 the situation in the city (now named Petrograd) was dire indeed. Workers striked, bringing the city to a standstill. The Tsar unsuccessfully attempted to dismiss the Duma and order the workers back to work. He eventually abdicated, a provisional government was formed, and the Socialists formed a soviet (council) of workers and soldier’s deputies. Lenin cleverly chose this time to return from exile in Switzerland and was warmly received by peasants, workers, and soliders. He quickly assembled his Bolshevik (majority) party and in October (new calendar: November) 1917, after many behind-the-scenes maneuvers, the soviets seized control of the government, which in March 1918 moved to Moscow. Lenin died in 1924 and St. Petersburg was renamed Leningrad in his honor.

The government might have left St. Petersburg (Leningrad) but trouble hadn’t. Quite apart from the tumultuous events of Stalin’s Russia, between September 1941 and January 1944 the city was beseiged for 900 days by invading German forces. While the exact figure is unknown, It is estimated that 800 000 people died from cold and starvation during the 900-day seige (blokada). Miraculously, the city’s residents didn’t surrender. After the blockade ended Leningrad was quickly reconstructed and its population gradually returned to its pre-seige level.

The modern St. Petersburg, which regained its original name in 1991, after the demise of the Soviet Union, is not without its problems. Economic growth and the enthusiasm of the younger generations belies the despair of their parents and grandparents, and the grandeur of the city’s buildings, renovated to their pre-revolutionary glory, sits uncomfortably with neighbouring slums. All the same, the city’s chequered past and ambiguous present are part of its attraction for the millions of tourists who visit it each year.


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