April 22-23, 2023: The Black Diamond Disaster Event, an American Civil War Commemoration Weekend, to be Held at St. Clement’s Island Museum to Remember the Forgotten Tragedy on the Potomac during the Hunt for John Wilkes Booth

April 12, 2023

On the weekend of April 22-23, 2023, 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.

Activities will take place on both Saturday & Sunday at St. Clement’s Island Museum from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., including free museum admission and boat rides, a folk concert, and a military ceremony on Sunday, featuring remarks from the Naval Air Station Patuxent River Base Commander and a commemorative wreath laying on the waterfront. This free event is open to the public and is an opportunity to learn more about one of Maryland’s worst nautical disasters and other information about 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. Meanwhile, the steamer Massachusetts headed for Fortress Monroe out of Alexandria, Virginia. In a tragic turn of events, the Massachusetts struck the Black Diamond in the darkness, sinking her in under three minutes. 87 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 be special exhibits on the Black Diamond story and more.

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

Following the 2:00 p.m. ceremony on Sunday, April 23, there will be a reception featuring 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 teenage siblings are Fredericksburg natives, and their instrumentation includes fiddle, bodhran, tin whistle, and mandolin.

Additionally, the 2023 Dinner and a Cruise Series kicks off on April 23, 2023 from 2 p.m. – 6 p.m. highlighting the theme, “The Civil War and St. Clement’s Island” as part of the weekend’s events. While the entire weekend is free and open to the public, the cruise requires prior reservation as only 20 tickets will be sold.

For more information on the event, or to reserve your ticket for the cruise, please call St. Clement’s Island Museum at (301) 769-2222 or visit dinnerandacruise.eventbrite.com.