**ATTENTION**This is an ongoing project. I continue to add photographs and historic items of interest as I come across them. If anyone has old photos, interesting facts, or stories relating to the Thomas Viaduct, the Viaduct Hotel, or the surrounding area of Relay I would be very interested in them. My e-mail address is neutronfan@yahoo.com. Thanks.


June 20, 2014

Civil War History of the Thomas Viaduct & Relay, Maryland Area

 The B&O Railroad was the only railroad into Washington DC until after the Civil War, thus it was an essential supply train route for the Union during that time. To prevent Confederate attack or sabotage of the Thomas Viaduct and Washington junction, the Sixth and Eighth Massachusetts regiments, as well as Cook's Boston Artillery Battery, took control of the railroad junction,  Relay House train station, and the Thomas Viaduct on May 5th, 1861. The Relay House itself became the occupying Union Army headquarters. 

  Union troops pose for a picture at the Relay House in 1861 with a  
waiting locomotive. Courtesy B&O Railroad Museum.

 Cook's Boston Light Artillery "Bouquet Battery" was set up on a hill overlooking the viaduct on the Elkridge side of the Patapsco River. Two cannons were positioned overlooking the southern end of the bridge and river valley facing north towards Relay and the hilltop encampment became known as Camp Essex.

 Cook's Boston Light Artillery "Bouquet Battery" in 1861 on the Elkridge
end of the viaduct. There are 2 cannons deployed on the hill overlooking
the Thomas Viaduct. This battery and the encampment behind it was  
known as Camp Essex. Courtesy, Howard County Historical Society.

 Cook's Boston Light Artillery also set up a 2-cannon sandbag battery on the Old Main Line facing west to protect the Thomas Viaduct from threats coming from that direction by rail. It was located about 150 yards west of the Relay end of the viaduct.

                    The sandbag artillery battery in 1861 facing west on the 
                    Old Main Line with two "twelve-pounder" cannons. The 
                    Thomas Viaduct can be seen about 150 yards behind it.
                     Photo taken from the hill in front of the battery. Courtesy, 
                     Howard County Historical Society.

    This is a sketch of the Union sandbag artillery battery facing west on the
Old Main Line. The Thomas Viaduct is about 150 behind the cannons   
From the Harper's  Weekly magazine dated June 1,1861.

 The same site as it appears today, minus the second set of tracks.
Photo taken March 2014 by Jeff L.

 A Union fort known as Fort Dix was built in Relay on top of the hill behind the Relay House overlooking the viaduct and Patapsco River valley and was named after General John A. Dix.. The Engineers who were in charge of building the fortifications on Federal Hill in Baltimore built an earthen-type fort which included a substantial timber block-house and a magazine sunk deep into the ground which was covered with a high mound of earth. In front of the magazine entrance was another mound of earth to protect it from incoming enemy shells.  An artillery battery was set up on the bluff overlooking the Thomas Viaduct with 7 twelve pound cannons, 1 thirty-four pounder and one heavy Howitzer.

   Thomas Viaduct in 1861. Photo taken from the bluff overlooking 
 the bridge on the Relay end where a Union artillery battery was 
        placed. Union Fort Dix was located behind the photographer on this
     hilltop. Notice the man standing at bottom left. Courtesy, Howard
 County Historical Society.

 To prevent the smuggling of arms and supplies by railway to the Confederate southern states, both freight trains and passenger trains passing through Relay were stopped and searched at the Relay House station by Union troops. Passengers had their trunks and even their food baskets searched. Everything from picnic baskets full of brass buttons destined for Confederate uniforms to thousands of percussion caps for rifles and pistols hidden in trunks were found and confiscated.

The Relay House ca. 1860's. Notice the crude telegraph pole
    at the passenger platforms.  That big white sign is in every Civil
  War era photo of the Relay House that I have come across. I  
   have a photo similar to the one above on a digital poster and I 
can decipher most of it. See below. Courtesy, Baltimore 
County Public Library Legacy Web project.

  This is most of what that large sign in front of the
Relay House says. I have a similar photo of the
  Relay House to the one above on a digital poster 
    and was able to enlarge and enhance it enough to 
         make this much out. Question marks are words that I 
   couldn't read. This is the exact layout of that sign.

 There were eventually over 2,000 troops stationed around the Thomas Viaduct in Relay, Elkridge, and the fields across the tracks from Relay that would later become the village of St. Denis. The entire area became a military occupation for the duration of the war, much to the dismay of the local residents. People's homes and buildings were occupied. Some of the soldiers not satisfied with their camp grub would forage around the countryside for something better; often robbing chicken coops, meat houses, dairies, etc.. If the soldiers at any of the camps wanted wood, hay or straw, they usually took it without the permission of the owners.

  Soldiers caught stealing chickens were often forced to march up and down the Relay House platforms all day wearing a wooden barrel with the top and bottom knocked out of it. A sign saying "Chicken Thief" was hung from it so that everybody passing by could see what they had done. Another popular form of punishment was having the offender march up and down the platforms wearing a knapsack full of rocks.

 Elkridge resident Rebecca Pue Dobbin Penniman, whose father was a southern sympathizer and owned the land where Camp Essex and the artillery battery was positioned, reported that northern Union soldiers tended to be more rude and insolent to suspected southern sympathizers living in the area than soldiers from the western regiments. She wrote that horses, fruit, and vegetables were stolen from them by northern regiment troops. She also reported that no sanitary regulations were observed by Union regiments and that they simply moved to a new location when their current camp site became too unbearable to use anymore ("Elkridge:  Three Wars & the Peace"  copyright 1983 by the Elkridge Heritage Society, page 45.). 

 There was another recorded incident of a group of soldiers under the command of a non-commissioned officer that began taking straw from a stack without the owner's permission. The farmer only mildly protested because he didn't want to get into trouble but his wife didn't share his fears. She demanded to see a quartermaster's order for the straw. The non-com replied that he didn't need one and told his soldiers to continue loading up the straw. She drew a pistol from under her apron and told them that she would shoot the first man that put a fork in their straw without an order. The soldiers left the farm and the non-commissioned officer returned later with the requested quartermaster's order. She then let them take the straw knowing that the government would pay her for its value.
  The areas of Relay and Elkridge were under martial law for four years so there was little to no advancement or improvements made there until the end of the war in 1865. Relay remained only a small hamlet until after the war was over.

              ***Click On Images To Enlarge Them***

              Google Earth image of the hilltop site where the Union Fort was
        located and of the Relay House which was taken over and used as the
              Union Army's regimental headquarters during the Civil War.

   Google Earth image of the Union Army's Camp Essex site located on top
   of the hill about 100 yards from the Elkridge end of the Thomas Viaduct.
  Cook's Boston Light Artillery camped here and had 2 cannons deployed
     at the top of the hill overlooking the Thomas Viaduct during The Civil War.

Union Soldiers pose in front of the Relay House hotel & 
train station 1861. The Thomas Viaduct is located just 
 around the bend at left. Photo Maryland State Archives.

   Cook's Boston Light Artillery at the edge of the hill overlooking the 
 Thomas Viaduct and the Patapsco River on the Relay side of the
        bridge in 1861. Bad boys showing off their sabres! The photographer
     must have been set up on the large rubble pile that was on this site
  because there is no way to get this angle today without standing
on a ladder. When they blasted out the hillside to move the Old
    Main Line tracks they dumped the rocks on this site and left them
   there until they decided to clear it in the late 1860's. The Viaduct
      Hotel was built on the site in 1873. Also, notice the telegraph poles 
     attached to the railings running across the bridge. Photo Patapsco
     Valley State Park, courtesy Baltimore County Public Library
Legacy Web project.

Stereograph of the Boston Light Artillery at artillery practice near the 
Relay House June 15, 1861. Courtesy, American Antiquarian Society.

 Boston Light Artillery near the Relay House June 1861. Courtesy American
Antiquarian Society.

 Stereographic view of the 1st section of Boston Light Artillery's cooking
 establishment at camp near the Relay House June 15, 1861. Notice that
the roof behind the men is in the background of the previous photograph.
Courtesy, American Antiquarian Society.

 Boston Light Artillery near the Relay House June,1861. Notice the men are all 
standing at attention with a cannon completely disassembled in a symmetrical 
manner in front of them. Courtesy, American Antiquarian Society.

Boston Light Artillery in camp near the Relay House June, 1861. Notice the man in
the foreground appears to be sewing a garment. Courtesy, American Antiquarian

Cook's Boston Light Artillery "Bouquet Battery" at Camp Essex on the
  Elkridge side of the viaduct in 1861. The bottom of the American Flag can 
be seen at the top just right of center which is hanging from what looks 
like a sapling that was cut down and used as a flag pole. Courtesy,
 Howard County Historical Society.

            If you look carefully at the previous 2 photos, you will see that the cannons
          and troops are set up on a kind of shelf that is about 3-4 feet below where
          the photographer is standing.  This is how it looks today. The line running
    horizontally through the center of the photograph is the drop-off to the
         shelf where the cannons were.  It is considerably smaller today because
the hill has a huge problem with erosion.  There are very few trees
 on the hillside and the county has posted a bunch of signs warning
people not to disturb the vegetation.

This was taken July 6, 2014. Mary Bahr of the Elkridge Heritage
Society hiked up the hillside with me to see the Bouquet Battery
 site. If you scroll back 2 photos you can see that the shelf on the
  edge of the hill was a few feet lower than where the photographer
   was standing. That is still true today as you can see. Where Mary
    is standing is a couple of feet lower than where I am standing. The
 erosion is considerably worse at this site than it was 3 years ago
when I took the previous photo.

  This is another sketch from the Harper's Weekly magazine
from June 1, 1861. The original caption underneath of the
   picture read "The Bouquet Battery, commanding the bridge
   at the Relay House, Lieutenant Josiah Porter, Boston Light
   Artillery. commanding". The Thomas Viaduct can be seen 
   directly in front of the cannon on the right. The sandbagged
   artillery battery with flag pole from 5 & 7 pictures back can 
be seen off in the distance just right of center.

Troops from the Bouquet Battery in Elkridge pose for a photograph with the  
Thomas Viaduct in the background. Three of these men are smoking pipes.
Notice the young boy at far right. Photo circa early 1860's. Courtesy New-York
Historical Society Museum & Library.


        Another drawing of Bouquet's Battery on the hilltop camp. The Relay
House can be seen under the flag and to the right in the distance.
Courtesy, Florida Center for Instructional Technology.

    A similar vantage point today but I'm closer & lower. Unfortunately, I
   had to take this picture from the I-895 highway bridge that was built
           directly in front of the "artillery hill". The Hockley Grist Mill was where the
           road is on the right. The grist mill's separate track ran up next to the right
          track on the wide gravel berm. The house in the far distance is on a bluff
    where the Union Army Civil War fort was built to defend the Thomas
           Viaduct and Relay. The highway bridges actually run right over top of the
        area where the 2 roads cross the tracks in the above photograph . The
             next photograph shows the hill where the Union cannons were positioned,
      as seen from the I-895 highway bridge that I'm standing on.

      This is the actual hill where Cook's Boston Artillery was positioned. 
I climbed that hill and was within 50-75 feet of the I-895 bridges
 at the top. Of course the original view is blocked by these bridges
          as well as the scrubby little trees clinging for dear life to the eroded hillside.
I'm sure that the Union Army clear-cut the hill at the time to have an
    unobstructed view and field-of-fire of the bridge as well as the Patapsco
river valley.

 This is a zoomed view from the shelf near the hill top.
  I am standing near the edge where the cannons were.
Because of the 2 highway bridges and the pine trees
  the view is totally ruined. I was standing on the farthest
bridge in the previous 2 shots.

 This is a New York Times article published May 11, 1861 about the disposition of General Butlers command from the Relay House:


Published: May 11, 1861

Tuesday, May 7, 1861.
  The men now under Gen. BUTLER's orders here are encamped on one of the most beautiful spots the eye could rest upon. The Relay House is situated in a deep valley, through which the Baltimore
and Ohio Railroad runs and from which the hills on either side slope gradually to a height commanding a full view of the surrounding country. The Eighth New-York Regiment was the advance guard in taking possession here, and arrived at noon on Sunday. The Sixth Massachusetts arrived somewhat later, by special train, from Washington. The Eighth New-York occupy one of these magnificent hills, and the Sixth the other, the valley, which is lined with troops -- detachments from the regiments -- separating them. I went over the camp this noon, and was surprised to find how rapidly the men had thrown up their tents and batteries, and made themselves comfortable. The tents and camp appointments of the Sixth have not yet arrived from Boston; but anyone to look at their quarters on Clermont Hill, would suppose that they were in little need of other tents than those which adorn the place of their encampment Numerous tasteful little barracks, made of limbs and boughs of trees, beautifully thatched and decorated with foliage, and well lined with straw within, are dotted all over the hill. The men are well provided with provisions, and they have a part of a house far down on the west side of the hill, which they call Doctor's Quarters. The family who occupied the house when the troops took possession of the place still remain, and have sufficient room for comfort. 
  The men are particular here, as indeed they are everywhere they go, to cause as little discomfort, and no interruption to the ordinary routine of daily occupations, as is consistent with their duty; and it is a gratifying thing to hear the people at this place and at Washington, expressing their pleasure at the behavior of the Northern soldiers. They are quiet, inoffensive, and always sober. The men here are a splendid set of fellows in appearance. Gen. Butler himself has a fine, military presence, self-possessed and full of vigor, with a hearty urbanity of manner that makes him very popular. He rides over the camp daily, mounted on a splendid animal apparently as full of fire as his manly-looking rider. The officers attached to the General's staff and to the regiments are noble-looking men -- strong, sinewy, and full of a determined force of character. They are of polished manner also, and know how to treat a lady with deference, even though she be a Secessionist, They meet with many having such sentiments in this latitude.
  One of the Eighth (New-York) Regiment accidentally shot himself this morning, while resting his chin on the muzzle of his gun. The bullet entered the poor fellow's brains, killing him at once. One of the Sixth was also unfortunate to-day. He came near being poisoned, -- something of that nature having been given him in the food or drink he had taken in the neighborhood. The men intend to keep a strict watch hereafter. A noisy Secessionist, a Baltimorean, was arrested here this morning. He shook his fist in the face of an officer, and with imprecations, said: "I was one of them who fired on you at Baltimore, and I'll do it again when I get a chance." This, with other insulting remarks, procured a lodging for him in the Guard-house, where he awaits Gen. BUTLER's orders. They have a few men on the sick list here, but none dangerously ill. Friends at home may be sure that the sick will be tenderly taken care of. Miss Powell, from New-York, has been all through the camp here, and has placed two of the efficient nurses of her corps under the orders of Gen. BUTLER, to go wherever they are wanted with his men.
  The Boston Flying Artillery that accompanied the troops here, have planted two fine batteries, commanding both points of the road leading to Baltimore and Washington. One commands the Bridge of the Washington Turnpike across the Patapsco, and the other could rake in a few moments the magnificent stone railroad bridge of the Washington branch, and has a fine sweep of the main track. It is a splendid military position, and can be held against any force that would make an attack.
  The Fifth (German) Regiment are new stationed at the Annapolis Junction, about 22 miles from Washington. They deserve the greatest praise for their vigilance and devotion. I saw them to-day, and their movements were very fine. I was amused at the way in which one of them related his love for the "Junion," (Union.)  The Regiment is under Col. Schwarzwaelder, and are well-built, active men. For some reason the afternoon train which was to go to Baltimore to-day has been ordered back to Washington.
  I saw Capt. BRIGGS, son of Ex-Gov. BRIGGS, of Massachusetts, at the Relay House today. He had just come from Fort McHenry. You may fancy how well the fort is occupied when you hear that some of the officers are obliged to camp in the stables.
  This is a beautiful region of country, and to-day's bright sun and lovely blue sky, light up the hills and valleys with all the soft, green, glowing beauty of early Summer. You have only to descend to the valley on the West side of Clermont Hill, to find yourself out of sight of the troops, who are within a minute's walk on the hill. In this valley your gaze is shut out by the hill from everything but the peaceful meadows of velvet green, the quiet cattle grazing, and the calm heavens. It was difficult to realize in this holy peace, that grape and cannister, and bullets and cold steel were on the other side of this high hill, ready to do a terrible work, and illustrating a commotion which will startle the world. Oh! that the men who have insulted the Stars and Stripes could really feel the value of this holy peace which they have broken, and the dreadful results to them which must follow. I told a Southern gentleman, to-day, who was expressing, with myself, a sorrow for the suffering which must fall on the South, that the world could never forget that when they rebelled against the Government, they had the control over it in both Houses of Congress. He sighed and said, "Yes." That reproach will always cling to them, and most damage their cause. More anon. Adlou. E.

This is the link to the above article:


  1. I was looking at the regimental history cards, on microfilm, for Company F, 5th NY Heavy Artillery, and saw these entries in the Record of Events group

    Jan & Feb, 1864
    station of company, Fort Dix, Relay House, Md.

    Mar & Apr, 1864
    station of company: Camp Hill, Harper's Ferry, Va
    record of events: left Fort Dix Md for Harper's Ferry Va
    on Apr 9 '64 and arrived there Apr 10 '64

    I found this site by googling to find out what "relay house, fort dix, maryland" was,
    and am very pleased to have found the info you provided.

    Thank you!


    PS There's nothing I can see to indicate that they ever fired a shot while at Ft. Dix. Do you happen to know if there was any engagement between Union and Confederate forces around this Fort, in 1864?

  2. The Thomas Viaduct & Relay railroad junction was so heavily fortified and defended that it would have been futile for the Confederates to attack. The only shot I ever remember hearing about was a Union soldier that stupidly rested his chin on the muzzle of his rifle and accidentally blew his brains out!

  3. Great information. I enjoyed reading this very much. Great job!

    1. Thank you. I'm glad that you found it enjoyable.

  4. Hello,

    I'd like to offer one correction regarding the Union troops at Relay during the summer of 1861. The New York Times reported that one of the regiments was the 8th NY Infantry. This is incorrect as can be seen in the reference below and others that I have found. The 6th and 8th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiments were stationed at Relay the summer of 1861, not the 8th New York. Also with the Mass. Regiments was the Manchester Cornet Band, a civilian band hired by the regiments before they left Washington. The MCB accompanied the 2nd NH Volunteer Infantry to Washington. When the 2nd NHV was deployed to Manassas, the MCB hired themselves out for the summer, returning home with both Mass. regiments on or about 1 August 1861.

    Regimental history from Massachusetts Soldiers, Sailors, and Marines in the Civil War, compiled and published by the Adjutant General:

    Eighth Regiment, Three Months

    "The 8th Regt. Mass. Vol. Mil., "Minute Men," was called to Boston by Special Order No. 14, issued on the afternoon of April 15, 1861, by the Adjutant General of Massachusetts. Having only eight companies, one company was added from the 7th Regt., a Salem unit, and one from Pittsfield, taken from the 1st Battalion of Infantry. Leaving the State April 18, it proceeded to Annapolis, Md., on its way to the national capital. At Annapolis two companies were placed on the frigate CONSTITUTION, guarding her until she was safely removed to the harbor of New York. Another company was detached to do guard duty at Fort McHenry near Baltimore, Md. The remainder of the regiment, after repairing the road-bed from Annapolis to Annapolis Junction and restoring the rolling stock of the railroad, proceeded to Washington, arriving April 26. Not until April 30 were the men mustered into the service of the United States. On May 11 the regiment was ordered into camp at the Relay House, Md. Here Col. Munroe resigned on account of age and ill health, and was succeeded by Col. Edward W. Hinks, an officer destined to attain high rank before the war was done. On July 2d the entire regiment was ordered to Baltimore, Md., the left wing arriving in the morning and the right wing in the evening of the following day. On July 29 it was ordered to Boston, Mass., and here on August 1, 1861, it was mustered out of the service."


    Susan Kinne

    1. Thanks. I made the correction and deleted the 8th NY regiment. I hope that is correct or I'm sure I'll hear about it somewhere down the line!

  5. Hello, I was wondering if you might have any photos, diaries, record or generally any information on Company K of 1st Regiment, Maryland Infantry. The Company was rallied at the Relay House on May 27, 1861 and left on June 6. The captain was Thomas S. J. Johnson. Thanks in advance!

    Best Regards,

    1. Sorry, I don't have any more information other than what I have posted. I never delved into details like that. I wanted to keep the page simple but informative. The info you seek has to be out there somewhere but I couldn't say where exactly to look.

    2. Ah ok. Could the Elkridge Heritage Society have any info?

    3. That is a possibility. Mary Bahr would be the person to get in contact with.

    4. curator@elkridgeheritage.org

  6. You have made the Thomas Viaduct's relationship with The Civil War very clear to me, with images and commentary that I have never seen nor thought about before. I played on 'the shelf' at Cleremont in the 1950's, unaware of the War's presence there a century prior. Thank you for closing the circle by offering a blog such as this, filled with fascinating info!

  7. Great blog Jeff. I found this blog posting a couple of years ago when researching some Elkridge history. I rediscovered it recently after visiting a friends house in the new Claremont development. Being a metal detecting enthusiast, I detected around her yard and found a crushed civil war bullet. Wish I could have got permission for the Claremont property before it was developed.

    1. Glad you enjoyed it. Frpm what I have heard the entire area has been metal detected for decades.

  8. Do you know where Union Soldiers who died there are buried. I am researching the grave of George A. Hamilton of the 10th Maine Infantry who died there of diphtheria on March 25, 1862

    1. I have no idea. I never heard of a grave site for soldiers. Sorry.

  9. Thank you for the helpful information. I was not the Relay side yesterday photographing trains.