tv The Civil War 1865 Black Diamond Naval Disaster CSPAN September 6, 2020 10:10am-11:00am EDT
on c-span three. in late april 1865 with the civil war drawing to a close, the barge black diamond sank following a nighttime collision on the potomac river with a steamer carrying union troops. 87resulted in the death of men. karen stone details the events of that knife and why this naval disaster is often overshadowed this navald why disaster is often overshadowed by other evens at the time. the national museum of civil war medicine provided the video and hosted the conversation. >> onto today's program. i am a very excited to share this story. last year i had the honor to participate in the commemoration
of the sinking of the black diamond down at saint clement's river down on the potomac in maryland. i was invited by my colleague here karen stone who has done an amazing job of continuing to tell the story and to bring the story out from the darkness and into the light. a little bit about karen. she is the director of -- she oversees re-distinct sites and that county for strategic planning, fundraising, creating strategic partnerships, overseeing museum partnerships and more. this is especially exciting. i love this article she recently published an article about this disaster in american civil war magazine entitled peril on the potomac. thank you for joining us on zoom this afternoon. dir. stone: this is very exciting, jake.
important event that has been overshadowed by many of the other events happening in april 1865, including other maritime disasters. a bad timing event for news coverage. were other things going on that was of more national import than this one. we are reviving the story, remembering the men who lost their lives. dir. wynn: we will get into our conversation in just a bit. a reminder to those watching, if you are here and watching and enjoying these videos, please like and share. -- moreps to more people see these videos and get more people in the conversation. if you have any questions for myself or karen, please drop them in the comments. we will get to those at the end of the presentation, at the end of our conversation.
we will bring some of those comments and and answer those questions for you. with that being said, i want to turn over to karen, stir -- steer the ship so to speak for the next couple of minutes. i have an image here i will share. i will try to screen share here if i can successfully do that. here we go. karen, taken away. -- take it away. dir. stone: it was april 22, 1865. it was day eight of the manhunt searching for john wilkes booth thehad killed lincoln on 14th. the eastern theater war was pretty much over, but they still needed to find food and they were afraid of what would happen if he got into maryland.
they were calling in troops from everywhere. this is the largest hunt in the country up until this time. they pulled vessels into the flotilla, which had been crucial to keeping d.c. safe at times. the potomac in those days was not calm, quiet waters. it was the front line of battle. [laughter] dir. stone: there you go. right above the end of the potomac river is where the incident took place. the o,e second oh is -- o is where the confrontation with john wilkes booth took place. for the people of st. mary's
county, it was their livelihood and for these men, their final resting place. trade, communication, even marriages and the george washington family had been focused on virginia for the folks in southern maryland forever. it was a lot closer to them than other parts of the state. to.as easy to get it provided their livelihoods, it is where they fished, it is where they woke -- worked and they share the waters with the virginians, so they knew each other. they married each other. they do not really care what was going on in the rest of the state of maryland. when federal troops came in and occupied maryland, the people along the potomac did not care. there were not involved. life just went on for them as usual. all their dealings continued with virginia but now they had
to be more cautious. now it was illegal to trade with virginia, but they didn't care. they just kept doing it. the troops that were stationed in the area knew what was going on. the even new in some cases who these men were that were spying into trading and carrying goods back and forth, but they could not -- spying and trading and carrying goods back and forth, but they could not catch them. were brought on -- into the flotilla. the flotilla itself under the command of the navy took vessels from locals and added them into the flotilla as they needed them to patrol the waters and keep everything safe. late in 1861 after the flotilla just got started, the flotilla commander wrote "from
all i can see or learn of the people of maryland, i am convinced on the shores of the potomac there is not one in 20 who is true to the union." when lincoln was assassinated, southern maryland was the natural place to look for food. said, the -- being added to the flotilla, the quartermaster department. in george -- georgetown had to put a temporary hold on freight service due to the lack of vessels because they had all been commandeered for use by the military. in 1865 after lincoln's assassination, even more vessels were temporarily chartered to aid in the hunt for john wilkes booth. that included the black diamond. it there are a total of one --
612 vessels- chartered by the court a at this time. the black diamond was a coal barge. it was now needed by the flotilla. it was designed by john erickson. some of you civil war folks might know john erickson as the man who designed the monitor. a very famous ship designer at the time. he designed this coal barge, the black diamond. built at afeet long, foundry, which quincy dental he was where the engines for the monitor were constructed. there is the ironworks. there were four of these vessels built at the same time, all for working on the canals. they were very shallow draft, only six feet.
they were great to be working on the potomac as well to get up so blacke creeks diamond was put in service with the quartermaster corps in 1862 and her contract was to haul freight between alexandria, washington, dc, and other ports upended down the river on higher as needed by the quartermaster -- up and down the river on as needed.n hire the course of her time with the quartermaster, the company was paid $30,000, which is quite a hefty sum in those days. receivesblack diamond special orders, this is a coal , not exactly the black
diamond, but close. it is a similar size. see the large pile of coal there that was being transported up and down the river for use by the military. was actuallymond iron hulled, not wood like this one. on april 22, 1865 federal authorities were aware that booth was in southern maryland and waiting to cross into virginia. theain lee got quartermaster at the alexandria depot to put the black diamond in service with the potomac flotilla. he sent her out of alexandria to the naval depot in maryland where they were picking up more specific orders to join a flotilla. they left honey point at 11:00 that night with orders to take
anchor at -- in the vicinity of lighthouse. they were to keep a booth from crossing the river. they incurred for the night and got all set up about 12:35 on the morning of april 23. booth was actually crossing the river at this exact time. he had left the shores of maryland -- a member this is the second attempt by him. he had tried the night before but this was the second attempt, the night he was successful. he left the maryland shore on a high incoming tide, which makes his crossing really rough but he got over to virginia's shore sometime after midnight so right around the same time that all of this is happening on the river. the massachusetts was the other
named jade doubt -- pentz. this is an actual picture of the actual ship, so you can see how much bigger it was than the canal barge. 308 tonschusetts was steel side steamer. it was being used by the quartermaster corps or the quartermaster department as a crew transport vessel. she was on her way from alexandria in washington to see seaport,ginia and -- virginia and then on to fort munro. she was not capable of ceiling through the -- she was not fit sheocean travel, so once got to fort munro, men would
have gotten off of her and onto a different boat. they were on to newborn, north carolina. the soldiers on board had recently been released from southern prison camps or the northnt camps in and were returning to the regiments to fulfill their terms of service for the war. massachusetts left alexandria at 5:00 p.m. on the 22nd and the soldiers were going to rejoin their regiments down in north carolina. the thirdlmes of regiment of the federal reserve corps was the commander of the troops on the steamer. the federal reserve corps was among the last of the units into troopere being used for transport such as this or prisoner exchanges, that kind of thing. a transport like
this where all the men came from different regiments, the reserve corps officer was to organize this group on board and keep them under control since there were not a lot of officers keeping them there. as they were coming down the river, everything was going fine. they had gone 60 miles or so out of washington when suddenly a strong wind began to blow, causing the river to become rough. if any of you have sailed on the potomac, you understand what that means. the wins come up fast and furious and can change the conditions in a heartbeat. shortly before 1:00 a.m., the massachusetts hit the angered black diamond. hit her on the port side near the boiler just to the aft of the port house, opening her hall to the waterline. the wind had begun. the resulting waters were rough.
that was probably part of the reason for the accident but also the navigational rules at the time and did that being partly to blame. the massachusetts was not blowing any whistles and even though she had her running lights on, the black diamond only had one light showing so it is possible the massachusetts thought it was a sure light. we are not sure what happened -- light. we are not sure what happened. the men on the massachusetts were all sleeping. we were asleep. there was this loud crash and they were all woken up by this loud jewels. there were about 300 men on board at that time -- this loud jolt. there were about 300 men on board at the time. largeack diamond hole was
-- hull was large enough to take the hit. the captain ordered all the men on board to congregate in the stern to keep the bow out of the water and then the black diamond swung around to side into the captain thought she was a rescue vessel, so he ordered his men to jump off the massachusetts onto the black diamond, not realizing black diamond was already sinking. alongside, the black diamond smashed one of the massachusetts'lifeboats leaving only one to help everyone. alonging steamer came just about this time too and helped rescue people and get them back on board.
he got most of the rest of the people on board and in the water who were still alive. assume survivors were forced to stay in the water -- some survivors were forced to stay in the water for three more hours clinging to debris or anything they could find two that would keep them from sinking. the chief engineer on board the black diamond's arrived, husted, recalled trying to pull one man out of the water with a rope but he was so numb that he couldn't hold onto the line. other survivors recounted similar stories, saying he slept through the rope many times till it became clear that it was no use. is, hehollins, here he has with the 101st volunteer infantry. he was one of the first among the troops on the massachusetts
to jump on board the black diamond. ofrealized he had jumped out the frying pan into the fire and he went up to the man at the wheel and said "is this boat all right?" and the wheelman said "no, it is sinking." he went back onto the looked forts and other men. they were all safe and were -- survived by climbing up and out of the water. the river was not too deep at that point. 3.5boat sank in about fathoms of water. we know the tide had gone out. 12:18, so thee at water was going out. the water was not that deep at that time. men jumped off the
massachusetts. ultimately, 87 were lost by drowning. the more that jumped on black -- the uses traveled massachusetts traveled to point lookout maryland, stayed near wrerec all night -- the ck all night, and on the way down, past another steamer, that was able to offload the men, because she was so damaged they did not want to lose more men. the headcount was down to 65. it ultimately ended up being 87 that were lost. this vessel took the men all the way to norfolk. then they continued on to newburgh, north carolina. sent to thes were
area immediately to help recover bodies. were that were recovered rob alexandria. quartermaster alan sent a boat armed with hooks the next day, and men who were to search and retrieve bodies. they were covered only 37 of the 87, and actually there is a report in the paper for may 12 they just retrieved the last of the bodies they could find, so it took almost two weeks to get all these bodies out of the potomac. they were just floating there in the meantime. collision was reported in the paper immediately, all over the country, little, tiny
articles, but then, as word got out about those, the bodies and the rest, and the someone wasns, captured and killed -- a booth was captured and killed, lincoln's funeral track was on its way, and the panic exploded. so this loss of 87 men was kind of forgotten. that --reported later there were a couple articles written by survivors -- they kept looking for articles and press about their incident, but it never showed up. the quartermaster department hired these boats privately. they were not considered part of the military, so the owners were
paid, and it was their responsibility to pay the crew and captains and pilots, so there were no claims possible for some of these men for pensions or anything like that. working and the soldiers being transported in the massachusetts got there pensions and things -- got their pensions and things, but the men from the black diamond thehad been members of alexandria steam engine fire department were not eligible for pensions of any kind, so they were never given anything at all. the context -- contracts for both ships stated that war risk was to be borne by the united states but that marine risk was to be borne by the owners. this was considered marine risk, so the government took no
responsibility in any of this at all. lee said that would free -- what he could -- from oft he could learn the cause the accident was the pilot of the massachusetts. he called for them to be arrested and further licensed to be taken away. -- for their license to be taken away. theinquiry was done by third supervising district of inspectors of steam vessels, which was normal. that was procedure of the day. there was nothing unusual about that it all. and they determined after their investigation that both pilots wholly disregarded the rules established and consequently their licenses will be revoked. there was also their opinion that this "lamentable loss of human life is caused by the present system."
to getd twice tried congress to change the rules on the life -- light in signaling. -- and signaling. congress decided no matter. it is good on the ocean, it is good on the rivers and the lakes. there were not as many lights on the black diamond is there could have been. the massachusetts was not required to signals coming through channels. it could have been avoided. we really do not just not know. -- we really just do not know. i would love to find out what their thinking was and what their arguments were. and we do not know the names of the pilots in that kind of thing. so we really just don't know. four of the members of the black diamond crew that were lost were civilian employees, like i said, at the steam firehouse in alexandria. and they were given military
honors and buried at the federal cemetery and ask andrea -- in alexandria, which was actually the first military cemetery ever inaugurated, so that was kind of nice, and they have a very nice marker there. most of them did not get pensions. were neverm went on, recovered. if you do not have a body, it is hard to claim a pension. if you are a woman and you have lost your son, it is hard to claim you are dependent on them so these people were just in a mess. list.not have a complete it is really hard to come up with their names because they did not come from a single place . they came from all over the place. they represented 25 or 30 different regiments. many of them had been at the
battle of plymouth and captured and put in andersonville. they were released from andersonville in 1864, went to camp pearl where they were nursed by clara barton, and then get on the massachusetts and were drowned. it is a pitiful incident. there were 13 members of the 16th connecticut. seven of the 13 were drowned and lost. only 37 of the bodies were recovered, so people just did not have the opportunity to bury their people. sank.ack diamond in 1867, a man was given permission to raise her. he wanted to salvage the iron and sell it, but we do not know if he ever did it. dischargedusetts was
june 10, 1865, and became embroiled in a legal battle over the cost of repairs. was -- approved the --airs, but by the tanton time they were done, his brother lein against the ship -- a lien against the ship. after that, it went back into private service and we lose track of it. we do not know what happened to it. 155 years ago today that all this happened, and these men gave their lives in the service of their country. another interesting aspect that people always say no one ever died. here are 87 men that died during the manhunt. they were not actually pursuing him.
they were hoping to catch him before he crossed, but they gave their lives nonetheless. it's nice that we can remember this again now and bring it back to people's attention. i appreciate that we are able to do this today. this is a good alternative for us today. >> can you talk about some of the efforts to remember this event? and how -- we talked a little bit about how it is forgotten in terms of the booth,t for john wilkes aftermath of the lincoln assassination. how is the event remembered locally? how does it get passed down to the point where we -- where you and others are reviving the memory of it? >> it started with us at the museum three years ago -- five years ago now. one of our volunteers happened
to know about this event. he just came to the museum in 2015 and said, we need to do this thing. i found this shipwreck we need to commemorate. they did a commemoration that year. i came on board a couple years after that. and heard about it and decided, this is a thing we need to do. it's important. the first year, we did the ceremony. out on the island itself. theuse everyone talks about incident happening within a mile of blackstone island, perhaps in view of the lighthouse, which is out on the islands. the first year, we went out to the island. we had a nice military sendoff with the navy support. -- military ceremony with the navy support. they are right by us. flotilla -- their
flotilla, their river. they came with us. this would have been our third year of the event. last year, we made it a two day event. added other exhibits including , you guys. it ties in some nicely. -- so nicely because there must've been people from this incident, families that came to her or sent letters to claire barton saying, can you help me? we don't know what happened. so that was a very good tie-in. we read the names of the deceased. you were able to speak about the importance of the missing soldier's office. th y was wondering if perhaps fewer men would have drowned and suffered if they had been in better health. i don't think he is kicking claire barton to the curb. i think after they spent all that time in
andersonville and then were just recovering from camp pearl they , weren't in the best of health. it wasn't like they were hearty 20-year-olds. they had hard times. we might have lost fewer of them. we are hoping he will come next year to tell us his theories about that. there's a lot of questions, including the blame. i think the board was correct. it belongs on both sides. because -- if you think about it "the black diamond" was supposed , to be on watch. where is everybody? why wasn't there enough people on board that were awake and paying attention? they saw the steamship coming downriver. maybe they couldn't do anything about it. i don't know. it makes you think. >> yeah. a lot of mystery. that point, a point of
clarification for myself, you said that booth crossed the river that same evening? >> yes. he tried on friday the 21st. that is when he was with thomas jones and thomas jones pushed the boat in the river and said, farewell. hope you get there. he didn't make it. he ran to the gunboat jupiter. we know that because the jupiter reports its position and another boat, the heel your trope, -- the helio trope, was going by and also mentioned having seen jupiter at that point. booth talks about the mouth of the river. we put that altogether. he ends up back on the maryland sure -- shore. i'm not sure if he mentions it again in his diary, but thomas jones finds out from his harden, thatw, mr.
booth was on the virginia side the morning of the 23rd. booth told him he had gotten there just a few hours before. >> so he is out on the river at the same time this is happening? >> uh-huh. >> that's crazy. >> not very far away. >> he does not write about this at all, i take it. it sounds like it probably made a lot of noise. >> i think so. he might've heard it. you wonder, did the other boats respond and pull away from where he was crossing? we really don't know that either. i've been working on this for two years and i have an eight inch stack of documents. there's a lot more for me to look at. every time i read something, i come up with another thing. i'd like to read the death logs of the jupiter. maybe they mention something. maybe they heard an odd noise in the night.
i just don't know. you never know when you will come across a little bits of information that lead you elsewhere. >> is an incredible story. i hope that doing these kinds of events, like you did for american civil war magazine, spreading the awareness of the story. it's a really compelling story. it is one of these maryland civil war stories that i think is known more regionally but should be better known across the state. because, i mean, it is fascinating, just, you know life , in the borderlands between the union and the confederacy and the kinship between those on the union side and the confederate side and the smuggling, and ultimately that all plays into this whole drama. as you mentioned, the jones
family assisting booth in crossing. these people all have these connections on both sides of the river. their loyalties are very divided. >> right. >> there's a reason that there is a flotilla on this river before booth ever tried to cross. >> absolutely. there were batteries up and down the virginia shoreline in the early days. in 61. the first thing they had to do was clear the batteries. transportation in and out of washington had just stopped. that was not good. we needed the river to move through. -- move troops. it had to be opened up. you couldn't open it and go away. everybody would leave. >> yeah. you know i was really bummed , out. of all the many things, you know, with the pandemic such a sadit is
time, a troubling time. we all mourn the loss of the things we were looking forward to in the spring. i have to say, high on my list is the commemoration for "the black diamond" disaster. last year, karen, as you mentioned i had the opportunity , to participate in the ceremony. it was incredible. just the opportunity to be in this place, this beautiful place, a beautiful weekend, stunning, to be on the water, to be not far at all from where this disaster took place and all this history happen. the ceremony itself was incredibly moving. e all -- you all do a great job of paying tribute to these men. they come as you said, paid the ultimate sacrifice, the price for their country. it is just so sad that over a century and a half, they have been mostly forgotten. i think it's incredible what you
all are doing to bring that story to light. it is so incredibly important to remember these people. just as what we do at the clear -- the clara barton missing soldier's museum. trying to remember all these unknown soldiers, they were forgotten during the war. they disappeared. their families have no idea what happened to them. to remember them, but also to remember those families and what that loss meant to the families, to the country, and ultimately how we repair the country after all of this. there are so many unhealed wounds. and i think -- go ahead. >> can you talk about what clare barton did? the camp was set up as a receiving camp where people came to check-in and get sent on to wherever they were going. they were tens of thousands of people there. but she was there that same spring. >> she is at the camp.
barton, just to quickly breeze through her civil war career living in washington , when the civil war breaks out. we commemorate her. her apartment building, her boarding house. she's there when the war breaks out. she becomes a volunteer relief worker. a nurse on the battlefield. becomes known as the angel of the battlefield. goes to maryland, virginia, all the way down to south carolina. by 1865, her nursing career is pretty much at an end. her civil war nursing career is at an end. the conflict is drawing to a close. the military did not have the need for her anymore. andfound a use elsewhere, that is with all these prisoners being brought back into union lines in the camp outside of annapolis.
she is working there and is horrified to what she is seeing. these men are coming in looking like human skeletons. they are skin and bones. they are ravaged by disease, ravaged by insects, written with written -- ten -- ridden with lice. she hears stories from these men from these men coming back, from prison camps, she's horrified to find out how many men never came back. she is horrified to find out -- that is the source. this interaction with prisoners of war who are returning is respiration for starting the missing soldier's office. she knows how many of these families, those soldiers went into those prisons and were never heard from again. she found that there was a need and she stepped in to try to fill that need.
that's how the missing soldier's office gets started. her efforts with the missing soldier's office at her boarding house on 7th street and d.c. she's coming back from calling on a friend that evening when she learns that the president has been shot. the next day, she learns that lincoln has passed away from his injuries. it's one of the most moving entries in her diary. she starts off with, no one knows what to do. it just like cuts. we all know those moments. we are living through one of those moments right now. what do you do in a national tragedy? it really ushers in her next step. she has to find all of these
missing soldiers. to try to shore up and finalize for so many families what this war meant, this war that their sons and brothers and family members became martyrs to this cause for. she feels that connection to lincoln as well. never met him personally. but had been given approval for a lot of her work by lincoln. you mentioned the connection to the families who come to the missing soldier's office. that is something we have tried to look into. haven't found anything yet. unfortunately, as you are finding, everything around this disaster is mired in of security. -- obscurity. there's not a lot of great information a lot of detail to , connect with. it is kind of depressing.
it is kind of said just because it is 87 people. this is not a minor accident. this is a serious -- is it the deadliest accident on the potomac river? do we know? >> it probably is. we went looking for the wreck underwater with sonar last summer. and i was appalled by how many shipwrecks there actually have been on the potomac. it is quite amazing. but i think this is probably one of the worst, yeah. >> ok. we have a question from the comments. how many were on board both vessels? >> there were about 300 soldiers on "the massachusetts." we know there was captain holmes, who was in charge of them.
there was a pilot. we don't know how many other crew. on the black diamond, the newspapers say there were 20 people. the quartermaster said it was a captain and a crew of 10. i kind of go with 11. err with the official report. instead of the famously over exaggerating newspapers in the civil war era. >> exactly. exactly. yes. >> you already wrote this great magazine article. what do you think is the future for this story? what does the museum intend to do? what do you intend to do? >> a couple of things. i will write a pamphlet of some kind that we can sell that goes into more of the histories of each of the 87 men. the 301i have so far and
everyone i can add on to. make it more of a story. it was an 8000 word story in the magazine. i have about twice that much. i would like to do that. ultimately, maybe a book. the meantime, and more concretely, we are working with the civil war trail. we have gotten permission from them to put up a civil war trail diamond.r the black >> shout out for drew gruber. >> we love drew. >> we do too. wherever he may be. >> i don't know how many of you have seen the marker for the tulip disaster. that is the smallest federal cemetery in the country. that is in the same county because the tulip also blew up there. it's a nice stone marker that was paid for by congress. we are looking at ways we can get congress to put up a marker
for our guys, too. that's in the works. drew knows a guy that knows a guy. we are on that to. -- on that too. in the immediate future, we hope we will have the civil war trails marker up on-site. that's really exciting. we are glad about that. >> if you all are out there watching, we've been having a good audience, thank you for tuning in. hope you have been enjoying this conversation so far. if you are enjoying it, please like and share the video. if you have any questions for karen about this disaster, about any other topics related to her work, please leave us a comment. we will get to those in just a bit. if you want to support these videos, consider becoming a member or donating to the museum. you can find that link in the comments right now. this is a good time while we , are making plans for when we can travel again, what can viewers
out there expect if they come down to st. mary's county and want to see some of your museums? >> we have a lot down there. starting with the civil war, there is a huge civil war trail in st. mary's county. we have point lookout, lots of sites have different things that happened. crazy stories about the one man that voted for abraham lincoln in the election and was run out of town. [laughter] there's all kinds of things down there. -- we haveitself has three and a sites right now. half the main museum is where this incident took place. it tells the story of the founding of maryland as well. the site of the 1634 landing of the first settlers that founded maryland.
andrew cited the first catholic mass in the english-speaking new the firstnd recited catholic mass in the english-speaking new world. we have the lighthouse museum and historical park. that is one of john donahue's many lighthouses in maryland. built in 1836. the first on the potomac. you can still climb up it. that's a lot of fun. there's a marine history museum -- building down there, too. we have the great african-american schoolhouse. it served from 1890 to 1940. we are in the process of getting the old jail museum, which is a great old mid-19th century jail. full of great stories about things that happened with our sheriff's department. our sheriff's department is the oldest in the country founded in , 1637. >> we are just about out of time. i want to thank you so much for coming on and sharing your stories. >> this was great. really enjoyed it. >> really appreciate it.
everyone out there, go find that magazine article. i think andrew shared it. it is from the american civil war magazine. it is an incredible story of the black diamond and what happened on april 22, 1865 and the hunt for john wilkes booth. karen and her team to integrate job of making sure that that story continues to be known. >> this is american history tv, covering history c-span style with lectures, interviews, and discussions with authors, historians, and teachers. 48 hours, all weekend, every weekend, only on c-span3. >> up next on the presidency, matthew costello talks about his new book "the property of the washington'se tomb, mount vernon, and the memory of the first president."
we learn about the ways americans celebrated george washington and the nori -- in the 19th century. how the freedt slaves from george washington's estate shape the historical narrative about him. george costello hosted this event. >> good evening, everyone. the house historical association -- there we go -- i would like to welcome our friends joining us by c-span and those who are here with us tonight who are the really smart people in washington because you have chosen to be here above the nationals' baseball game and above the televised presidential debate tonight. we think we have got the best thing going here and we are glad you chose to be with us. i would like to acknowledge some very important people who are with us this evening.