Black Diamond Disaster memorial ceremony

Capt. Christopher Cox, NAS Patuxent River commanding officer, offered remarks at the Black Diamond Disaster Memorial Ceremony April 28 at St. Clement’s Island State Park. Other speakers included Karen Stone, St. Mary’s County Museum Division manager, and Jake Wynn, director of interpretation at Clara Barton’s Missing Soldiers Office.

The event served to memorialize the 87 men who were lost in the collision of the barge Black Diamond and steamer Massachusetts in April of 1865.

Following the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, the Army’s Quartermaster Corps sent 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 river; unbeknownst to them he had already crossed and was in King George County.

On April 23, the steamer Massachusetts headed for Fort Monroe out of Alexandria, Virginia. She carried recently paroled federal prisoners of war and other Union soldiers returning to their units. At around 10 p.m. Massachusetts struck Black Diamond on the port side near the boiler, sinking her in under three minutes. Massachusetts stayed near the spot picking up survivors until daybreak, in spite of the damage to her bow.

The ceremony April 28 featured a wreath laying, as well as a presentation of colors by the NAS Pax River Honor Guard, and renditions of the National Anthem and the U.S. Army Song by Staff Sgt. Nicole Bouffard of U.S. Army Voices.