News Release, St. Mary’s County Public Information Office

Weekend Event Commemorates the Forgotten Tragedy on the Potomac near St. Clement’s Island during the Hunt for John Wilkes Booth

Leonardtown, MD – 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. During the same time, the steamer Massachusetts headed for Fortress Monroe out of Alexandria, Virginia. In a tragic turn of events, the Massachusetts struck the Black Diamond on the port side near the boiler, sinking her in under three minutes. 87 lives were lost off the shores of St. Clement’s Island that night.

On Sunday, April 28 at 2 p.m., the St. Mary’s County Museum Division, in partnership with Naval Air Station Patuxent River, the United States Army, the Alexandria Fire Department and Maryland Historical Trust’s Archaeology Month will remember the lives lost in this tragedy in a military ceremony and wreath- laying on the waterfront at St. Clement’s Island Museum.

Weekend event activities will happen all day on Saturday, April 28 and Sunday, April 29 at St. Clement’s Island Museum and on St. Clement’s Island State Park from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., with the Ceremony taking place at 2 p.m. on Sunday, April 29. This free event is open to the public and is an excellent 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.

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.); free Civil War-focused tours of Blackistone Lighthouse; free admission to the St. Clement’s Island Museum, which will feature a reenactor of Foxhall Parker (Commander of the Potomac Flotilla); the Institute of Marine History on site with a boat display and information about searching for the Black Diamond; the Clara Barton Missing Soldiers Office Museum display; and a Federal Troops reenactment group.

Also located in the museum building, The Mask of Lincoln poster exhibit from the Smithsonian Institution Travelling Exhibit program will be featured all weekend. Drawn from the National Portrait Gallery’s unrivaled collection of Lincoln portraits, The Mask of Lincoln charts the president’s passage from a fresh-faced Illinois congressman to a troubled visage as he led the fight for the Union, culminating in his weary isolation as president. These portraits invite the viewer to examine closely the complex and mysterious man who came from nothing and was nationally unknown almost to the moment of his nomination for president. Shaping himself to the uncertainties of the present, mindful of his role as the heir to the Founders, it was Lincoln’s ability that led the nation where it never intended to go: from political crisis over states’ rights to the revolutionary act of abolishing slavery. The final portrait reminds the viewer of his assassination by John Wilkes Booth, and the lives of the 87 men lost during the hunt for him, from which came the Black Diamond Disaster.

Saturday Evening will feature a free showing of “The Lighthouse by the Sea”, a 1924 silent movie starring Rin Tin Tin, Wm Collier, Jr. and Louise Fazenda in the museum building.

The weekend concludes on Sunday April 28 with a fun evening of cruising on the St. Clement’s Island Water Taxi, cocktail reception at St. Clement’s Island Museum and delicious seafood dinner at waterside Morris Point Restaurant. Occurring from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m., this event’s theme is “The Civil War and St. Clement’s Island” and will include a guided presentation about St. Clement’s Island’s interesting role during the American Civil War. Your guide will be Foxhall Parker, the Commander of the Potomac Flotilla during the war. He will talk about Civil War events on the Island, on the Potomac River and in Leonardtown. As a special addition, the event will include attending the Black Diamond Ceremony on St. Clement’s Island at 2 p.m. 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 about the free weekend, or to reserve your ticket for the cruise, please call St. Clement’s Island Museum at 301-769-2222. For more information regarding the St. Mary’s County Museum Division’s museums and historic sites, please visit or, or on Twitter at @StClemIsMuseum or @PineyPtLHMuseum.

David M. Higgins II is an award-winning journalist passionate about uncovering the truth and telling compelling stories. Born in Baltimore and raised in Southern Maryland, he has lived in several East...