The American Civil War forever changed the County of Prince George. Farmlands were neglected and abandoned as the County’s sons went to war. An agricultural innovator and committed secessionist, Edmund Ruffin was born at Evergreen on the James River, in 1794. Although his agricultural contributions saved many of the farms with his concept of replenishing soils rather than depleting them, Ruffin remains known as the person behind the first shot at Fort Sumter and the beginning of the War. Even if, as many historians believe, that was not the case, no one could argue against his blatant support of the war effort. He died of suicide at the war’s end.
Confederate leaders understood the military importance of Petersburg early in the war. Work to construct fortifications to defend the city began in 1862 under Captain Charles H. Dimmock. Ten miles of entrenchments, including 55 artillery batteries, ringed the city on its east, south, and west with many of them in Prince George County. From June 15-17, 1864 approximately 40% of the Army of the Potomac crossed the James River on a 2100-foot long pontoon bridge from Weyanoke Point in Charles City County to Windmill Point at Flowerdew Hundred Plantation. The movement of much of the Army of the Potomac to a location south of the James River served to end the 1864 Overland Campaign and to begin the campaign of Petersburg//Richmond. Many battles occurred in the County during the siege of Petersburg. Among the 1864 battles were Baylor’s Farm (in present-day Hopewell) on June 15, Jerusalem Plank Road from June 21-24, Reams Station on August 25, and Confederate General Wade Hampton’s Beefsteak Raid from September 15-18.
Volunteers dug a tunnel 511 feet long under the Confederate earthwork known as Elliott’s Salient, and exploded 8000 pounds of gunpowder. The subsequent Union attack failed to break through the Confederate lines protecting Petersburg. The Battle of Fort Stedman, Lee’s last grand offensive, was fought on March 25, 1865. One week after this battle, the Union forces penetrated the Confederate entrenchments outside of Petersburg. Seven days later, Lee surrendered at Appomattox Court House. In all, elements of the Union Army of the Potomac and the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia were in Prince George County from June 9, 1864 until April 3, 1865 during the Petersburg Campaign. It was the longest siege in American history. The Petersburg National Battlefield was authorized by Congress in 1926 and is today a major visitation point within the National Park Service. Only a small portion of the Park remains within the Prince George County geographical boundaries.
The conclusion of the American Civil War brought many changes to the County. Former slaves of the plantation system were freed and the county’s social, political, and economic systems changed. Many churches were founded during the remainder of the 19th century, particularly for black congregations, among them Harrison Grove (1865), Pleasant Grove (1865), and Morning Star (1885). Peter Randolph, born to slavery at Brandon and freed upon the death of his owner, went on to become a famous preacher and author including his writing entitled “Sketches of Slave Life”.