By May 6, 1861, Washington DC was safe from immediate capture by Confederate forces. When Fort Sumter was fired upon, Washington was without any organized and reliable military force while Confederate forces began gathering across the Potomac in Alexandria and Arlington. The Sixth Massachusetts Infantry, the unit from Lowell that had to fight its way through Baltimore, had arrived in Washington late in the day on April 19, but the riot in Baltimore had caused that city’s officials to burn the major railway bridges leading into the city from the north, cutting the rail route from the northeast into the nation’s capital and preventing any additional troops from getting there.
Several days later, Butler established a by-pass of Baltimore by ferrying his follow-on troops (the 8th Massachusetts and the 7th New York) down the northern tip of Chesapeake Bay to Annapolis where a rail route into Washington was established. By the end of April, 10,000 northern troops were in Washington on the immediate crisis had passed.
Switching to the offensive, Butler, who had been made commander of the newly formed Department of Annapolis, sought to re-open the route through Baltimore. On this day in 1861, he loaded the Sixth Regiment on a train and pulled up to Relay Station, a key rail junction five miles south of Baltimore. He seized the station and the surrounding hills and kept them in Union hands. This set the stage for Butler’s daring raid into Baltimore just a week later.