Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Introducing Southside Virginia

Before doing my farm work today I thought I'd catch a little Vitamin D. After all, I don't want to be shark bait when I get to Hawaii. 

Here's the fascinating book I've been reading. 

It details the final week of the war in Virginia. These battles all took place in what is called Southside Virginia. 

In case that term is new to you, Southside Virginia is that portion of the state that lies below the James River and that extends to the North Carolina border. It is made up of two natural regions: the Coastal Plain (also called the Tidewater) and the midsection (also called the Piedmont). 

My farm is in the Piedmont. The former region extends from the coast to the fall zone, while the latter extends westward to the Blue Ridge. The elevation in the Tidewater is between 100-300 feet, while the elevation in the Piedmont can reach 700-800 feet. Southside is comprised of the James River Basin, which includes the Appomattox River, and the Chowan River Basin, which includes the Nottoway, Blackwater, and Meherrin Rivers. The average temps in the region range from 39 degrees in January to 79 degrees in July. Precipitation averages about 45 inches per year. 

At the start of the Civil War, there were 24 counties in Southside. The total population was 373,174 (44 percent white and 56 percent black). Southside has always been largely agricultural in nature. My own farm used to grow dark leaf tobacco, which was the main crop in the antebellum period. In 1860, Petersburg was the second largest city in Virginia and the eleventh largest in the South. Its industries included tobacco factories and numerous cotton and flour mills. Most of the mills were located on the Appomattox River. Petersburg was situated at the head of navigation on the fall line of the Appomattox River, so the city was fairly wealthy. Streets and homes were illuminated with gas lighting, and there was a gravity-fed municipal water system complete with fire hydrants. Many streets were paved with cobblestones, and the sidewalks were all bricked. (I've run the Petersburg Half Marathon several times and I can attest how difficult it is to run on cobblestone.) 

When, in 1865, the two armies departed the Richmond/Petersburg front on April 3, they would pass through the following Southside counties during the final Appomattox Campaign: Chesterfield, Dinwiddie, Amelia, Nottoway, Powhatan, Prince Edward (where Farmville is located), Buckingham, and Appomattox. All but Nottoway have a common boundary with the Appomattox River. It was in 1854 that the Southside Railroad completed its line between Petersburg and Lynchburg. Originally the line was set to bypass Farmville owing to the many grades in the area. However, Farmville residents raised a total of $100,000 to bring the railroad through town. These funds were used to build the High Bridge that routed the railroad between Rice's Station and Farmville. 

Hope this gives you some context when I mention such places as Rice, High Bridge, and Farmville!