The Occupation of Baltimore

Relay was secure. The railroad was firmly in Union control. The Winans Gun had been captured. Everything was going so well that Brig. General Benjamin Butler wasn’t at all concerned about an attack coming from Baltimore. In fact, he claimed that he’d yet to see:

…any force of Maryland secessionists that could not have been overcome with a large yellow dog.

That said, he wanted to take control of Baltimore and make sure that the secessionists couldn’t gain a foothold there. Without asking for permission from his superiors, he made a plan.

On May 13, 1861, under cover of darkness and in the midst of a heavy rainstorm, Butler loaded about 1,000 of his men onto a train at Relay and steamed into Baltimore. By midnight, they had possession of Federal Hill, and had begun building fortifications to hold the hill. It was a bloodless invasion as the rainy night had kept most of Baltimore’s citizens indoors and unaware of what was happening.

Butler notified the commander of Fort McHenry that the city was secure, but that guns should be trained on the downtown area, in case there was an attempt to take Federal Hill by force. None came.

Even though they were happy to have Baltimore neutralized, the higher-ups in the army didn’t like the blatant show of force. They immediately relieved Brig. General Butler of his command in Baltimore. New troops under Maj. General John A. Dix would be moved into town, taking possession of the forts around Baltimore and patrolling the railroads.

A new fort was constructed at Relay – on the hill directly to the north of the Thomas Viaduct – called Fort Dix, after the new commander. Camp Relay was established nearby, and Camp Essex sprang up on the Howard County side of the river in Elkridge. By the end of the war, there were 28 cannons in place to protect the Relay junction and the Thomas Viaduct. Thousands of troops served in the area, being constantly rotated in and out over the course of the war.

One of the units that spent a few months here was the 138th PA, and that will bring us back to Peter Thorn.

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