Black Diamond Disaster Event

LEONARDTOWN, Md. –  On the weekend of April 23-24, the St. Mary’s County Museum Division will remember the 87 lives lost in a tragedy during the American Civil War on the Potomac near St. Clement’s Island during the hunt for presidential assassin John Wilkes Booth.

Weekend activities will happen on both days at St. Clement’s Island Museum from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., including free museum admission and free boat rides, a free folk concert Saturday, and a military ceremony Sunday featuring remarks from the Naval Air Station Patuxent River Base Commander and wreath-laying on the waterfront.

This free event is open to the public. It is an opportunity to learn more about one of Maryland’s worst nautical disasters and other information regarding St. Mary’s County during the American Civil War.

In April 1865, following the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, the Quartermaster Corps sent the barge Black Diamond to the lower Potomac to stand on picket duty off St. Clement’s Island. Her main job was to keep John Wilkes Booth from crossing the Potomac River.

The steamer Massachusetts headed for Fortress Monroe out of Alexandria, Virginia, during the same time. In a tragic turn, the Massachusetts struck the Black Diamond on the port side near the boiler in the darkness, sinking her in under three minutes. Eighty-seven lives were lost off the shores of St. Clement’s Island that night.

On both days throughout the weekend, the public can enjoy free water taxi rides to St. Clement’s Island (the final water taxi will leave at 3 p.m.) and free admission to the St. Clement’s Island Museum. There will also be special exhibits on the Black Diamond story and Surratt House Museum.

On Saturday, April 23, at 2 p.m., there will be a free, family friendly outdoor concert on the waterfront lawn of the museum by the Sibling Rivalry Fiddle Band, a four-sibling folk band playing Civil War-era music and other American folk tunes. This extremely talented group of siblings ages 13 to 19 are Fredericksburg natives and their instrumentation includes fiddle, bodhran, tin whistle and mandolin.

The weekend concludes Sunday, April 24, with a fun evening of cruising on the St. Clement’s Island Water Taxi, a cocktail reception at St. Clement’s Island Museum, and delicious seafood dinner at waterside Morris Point Restaurant from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. This event’s theme is “The Search for the Wreck of the Black Diamond” and will include a guided presentation during your cruise. While the entire weekend is free and open to the public, the cruise requires prior reservation as only 20 tickets will be sold.

Local artist, Angela Wathen, has created an original painting depicting the Black Diamond and the Massachusetts collision on that fateful night, which will be on display during the event weekend. The artist has generously donated the piece to the museum’s permanent collections. This artwork will be the only known portrayal of this event; it is based on an actual photograph of the Massachusetts and an image of a coal barge thought to be very similar to the Black Diamond.

For more information about the free weekend or to reserve your ticket for the cruise, please call St. Clement’s Island Museum at 301-769-2222 or visit

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *