On the evening of April 24, 1781, British General William Phillips lands on the banks of the James River at City Port, Virginia. Once there, he combined forces with British General Benedict Arnold, the former American general and notorious traitor, to launch an attack on the town of Petersburg, Virginia, located about 12 miles away.
Defending the town of Petersburg from the approaching British troops was a contingent of 1,000 troops from the Virginia militia led by Major General Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben. General von Steuben had set up defensive lines of resistance, but had no real hope of victory as the Americans were severely outnumbered by the British army of 2,500 troops. After several hours of fighting, von Steuben ordered a full-scale retreat of the Virginia militia as the city of Petersburg fell into British hands. Although Petersburg was lost, General von Steuben and the Virginia militia were able to resist the British force long enough for Patriot troops to assemble and set up defensive positions in nearby towns.
General Phillips had survived three years of captivity after being taken prisoner by the Americans at Saratoga in 1777 and marching with the so-called “Convention Army”–dubbed as such because the British and Americans signed a short-lived convention that the prisoners would be released to Europe if they agreed not to fight in North America again–700 miles from Saratoga, New York, to Charlottesville, Virginia, in November 1778 (after the revocation of the Convention of Saratoga). He was released in exchange for Patriot Major General Benjamin Lincoln in 1780. Despite such earlier fortitude, Phillips died of typhus on May 13 in Petersburg, less than a month after his victory.