The Revolutionary War
Positions in the Battle of Petersburg
On 25 April 1781, this part of the community of Pocahontas served as the rear guard staging area for American Major General Frederick von Steuben's Virginia militia in their defense of Petersburg against the invading British army under Major General William Phillips.
During the evening and night before the battle, troops of Brigadier General Peter Muhlenberg's Corps had encamped in Pocahontas and on the Heights (now Colonial Heights) above the community to protect the army from any possible British surprise attack. This encampment had also served to receive and assemble additional gathering militia being called up for the emergency. On the morning of the battle, von Steuben moved his army to positions on the eastern edges of Petersburg and Blandford to prepare for battle. He deployed elements of the Chesterfield County militia, under Colonel Robert Goode, and two companies of Lieutenant Colonel Robert Caul's Virginia cavalry, including one which was commanded by Captain Robert Bolling IV of Petersburg, along this north side of the Appomattox River all the way downstream to Bermuda Hundred. Their mission was to protect the American rear and the Americans' single avenue of retreat from Petersburg across the Pocahontas Bridge. Upon the retreat of the Americans from their forward position in Petersburg, the units located here provided covering fire as the embattled four regiments successfully crossed the bridge into Chesterfield County and safety. During this retreat, the Virginians sustained their heaviest casualties of the battle, particularly while British artillery fired on their backs as they ascended the steep terrain onto the Heights. At the time of the Revolutionary War, the Appomattox River Diversion Channel on the west and north sides of Pocahontas had not been cut. The marsh on the west side could be forded and traversed.
The Pocahontas community was important for its many warehouses and docks, which supported Petersburg's large harbor and tobacco economy and maintained military stores for the American Continental Army. The Pocahontas Bridge, a narrow wooden structure, was a significant avenue of movement for troops and supplies of the Continental Army during the war.
These three maps show the positions of the British in red and the Americans in blue at various points during the Battle of Petersburg on 25 April 1781. They also have an overlay showing the location of the modern diversion channel, which has changed the course of the Appomattox significantly since that time.
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