The Black Diamond Disaster witnessed the deaths of 87 men hunting for Abraham Lincoln's assassin, John Wilkes Booth.

St. Mary’s Museum Honors Civil War Soldiers Lost in Manhunt for Lincoln’s Assassin

Museum honors 87 men killed in the manhunt for Lincoln’s killer.

On April 21, the St. Clements Island Museum in St. Mary’s County will commemorate a deadly on-water crash that has, in many ways, been forgotten by history.

The St. Mary’s Museum Division and Naval Air Station Patuxent River will remember the 87 lives lost in the Black Diamond Disaster—a violent nighttime allision between the Massachusetts, a steamer, and the Black Diamond, an anchored barge. The Massachusetts was traveling south from Alexandria to Fortress Monroe, and the Black Diamond was standing picket duty. Both ships were working to find John Wilkes Booth, who was on the run after assassinating President Abraham Lincoln, and was thought to be attempting to cross the Potomac River.

The Black Diamond sunk in under three minutes but, surprisingly, only four of the ten
soldiers aboard it died. The other 83 victims, all Civil War-torn soldiers themselves, drowned
after mistaking the Black Diamond for a rescue boat and jumping onto it before it sunk.

“It has always been said that not a single life was lost during the hunt for John Wilkes Booth, and
this is and should be said with pride,” said St. Mary’s County Museum Division Manager
Karen E. Stone. “If only it were true. It is our duty as historians to tell the tale of those who died
[on the Black Diamond] through this annual event.”

Taking place at St. Clement’s Island Museum from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., the free event will give the
public the opportunity to reflect on and learn about not only one of Maryland’s worst nautical
disasters, but also St. Mary’s County’s significance during the American Civil War.

On the somber side, the commemorative portion of the day will include a military ceremony featuring remarks from the Naval Air Station Patuxent River Base Commander, a reading of the names of the men who drowned while a commemorative wreath is laid on the Patuxent River, and a live playing of taps by a Civil War reenactor.

As for education it will include free admission to the museum, where visitors will see special exhibits on the Black Diamond story and the only known depiction of the collision, an original painting by local artist Angela Wathen 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 day will also include some good old-fashioned fun in the form of free water taxi rides to St.
Clement’s Island (with the final water taxi leaving at 3 p.m.) and a free, family-friendly outdoor
concert on the waterfront lawn of the museum by the Sibling Rivalry Fiddle Band, a folk group
comprised of four teenage siblings from Fredericksburg who play Civil War-era music and other
American folk tunes on instruments including the fiddle, bodhran, tin whistle, and mandolin.

Finally, the day will also kick off the 2024 Dinner and a Cruise Series, with this year’s theme
being “The Civil War and St. Clement’s Island.” The cruise requires prior reservation and 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 follow them at