Alfred Brown Peticolas, attorney, artist, diarist, and Civil War soldier, was born in Richmond, Virginia, on May 27, 1838, the fifth of seven children of Julius Adolphus and Mildred Warner (Brown) Peticolas. He was only eight when his father died. His mother and later his uncle, Robert Brown, took responsibility for his education. After attending public school in Petersburg, Peticolas moved to Amherst County in the late 1850s. There he opened a small school and studied law. In 1859 he obtained a license to practice law in Virginia. At his uncle's encouragement he subsequently moved west to Texas, where he was licensed to practice law in September 1859. The following month Peticolas settled in Victoria and entered into a partnership with Samuel A. White.
Peticolas is best remembered for his Civil War journals and detailed pencil sketches of early landmarks in Victoria. On September 11, 1861, he was mustered into Confederate service as a member of Company C, Fourth Regiment, Texas Mounted Volunteers (part of Sibley's Brigade). He recorded his impressions of the New Mexican campaign in a journal illustrated with sketches of forts, battles, and landscape scenes that was reprinted in 1984 in Rebels on the Rio Grande. Peticolas was ill after he served as quartermaster sergeant in the Louisiana campaign, and in 1864 he was placed on detached duty as a clerk in the office of the chief quartermaster. He was discharged in Houston on May 23, 1865.
After the war he resumed his law partnership with White and became involved in Victoria society. He married Mary Dunbar, daughter of Margaret H. Borland, on May 3, 1866, but she and their infant daughter died of yellow fever the next year. On June 22, 1869, he married Marion Goodwin, daughter of Dr. Sherman and Lydia Cook Goodwin; they had three sons. The Peticolases built an elegant two-story home at the corner of Bridge and Goodwin streets that was later replaced by a telephone office. In addition to expanding his law practice, Peticolas served as editor of the Victoria Advocate from 1881 to 1888. He actively supported the Presbyterian church in Victoria. In 1885 he wrote the Index Digest of Civil and Criminal Law of Texas, for many years a standard text used by the State Bar of Texas. Peticolas was a tall, impressive man, nicknamed "Judge."
Many of Peticolas's sketches were produced between the late 1850s and the middle 1860s. His drawings of Victoria's first courthouse (1862), the old Globe House, which was located at the corner of Bridge and Forrest streets (1865), and the homes of such early Victoria settlers as Ben F. Tippett and Col. A.F. Hall (1860) enable one to visualize an early Victoria that has since disappeared. Peticolas taught himself to draw, and his lack of formal training was occasionally evidenced by skewed perspectives. Nevertheless his skill improved over the years; an early self-portrait (1858) shows the young schoolmaster stiffly posed within an elaborate, pencil-drawn frame; in a later self-portrait (1862) Peticolas adopted a casual pose and used fluid shading to create a more three-dimensional effect. Moreover, his consistent eye for detail provided in many cases the only visual record of Victoria's early structures (photography was rarely practiced along the Gulf Coast until the 1870s). Peticolas's 1860 sketch of the Shirkey boarding house (since demolished) on the corner of William and Juan Linn streets, where fellow Virginian Robert E. Lee stayed many times on his journeys from Indianola to San Antonio, exemplifies the interest and importance of his sketches as visual history.
In addition to sketching, Peticolas traveled in Europe, played chess in national tournaments, and built expertly crafted furniture. He died in Victoria on January 27, 1915. Many of his drawings were presumed to be lost or destroyed until the exhibition Early Texas Furniture and Decorative Arts, sponsored by the Witte Museum in San Antonio, traveled to Victoria in 1978. Among the objects on display were fourteen sketches that the museum had attributed to the nonexistent Arthur Edward Peticolas. Professor Robert Shook correctly attributed the sketches to Alfred B. Peticolas. In addition to the holdings of the Witte Museum, Peticolas's drawings may be found in the collections of the Victoria College Library and the Arizona Historical Society.