The Rock Island National Cemetery is honoring the soldiers of the 108th United States Colored Troops (USCT) in a ceremony on Monday, June 20 at 10 a.m. Honoring the 108th USCT, an organization that includes local descendants of men from the USCT regiment as well as other community members committed to honoring the soldiers by sharing their stories, is organizing and coordinating the ceremony. The public is asked to bring their own chairs.
The 108th USCT is one of 170 Civil War regiments comprised of formerly enslaved and free black men that served during the Civil War. The regiment was formed in Kentucky and organized on June 20, 1864 in Louisville, Kentucky. After garrison and guard duty at various points in the state, the regiment was transferred to Rock Island Prison Barracks at Rock Island (now the site of Rock Island Arsenal). The 108th arrived on the post on Sept. 24, 1864 and served as guards at the prison that held Confederate prisoners of war.
On May 30, 1865, the 108th left the Rock Island Prison Barracks and transferred to Vicksburg, Mississippi. While at Rock Island, 50 men from the regiment died from various illnesses or infections. Those men are buried at the Rock Island National Cemetery. During the duration of their service, the regiment lost more than 200 men.
Milton Howard was a member of the 108th from the Quad Cities. He was born in Muscatine in 1852 and shortly after his birth, his family was abducted and sold into slavery in Alabama. He eventually escaped and enlisted in the Union Army in 1864, serving as a private with Company F, 60th U.S. Colored Troops. He was injured several times and after the war, he returned to Iowa.
He began working at the Rock Island Arsenal in 1866 and was one of the first black workers employed there. His 56-year career inspired years of civil and military services in his family. When he died in March 1928, his death was front page news in the Quad Cities. In 2018, a street at the Arsenal was named in his honor.