ROCK ISLAND, Ill. (KWQC) – It’s history in our own backyard. The southwest corner of the National Cemetery on Arsenal Island is where 50 Union soldiers from the 108th U.S. Colored Infantry are buried. Civil War historian Ed Reiter calls it hallowed ground. The final resting place for black soldiers who guarded Confederate prisoners on the Island during the Civil War.
Most of the headstones are original and so are the stories behind them. The soldiers enlisted in the Union Army. Most were from Kentucky. They joined the military to fight against the system that had kept them enslaved for so many years.There were 980 Black Soldiers in the 108th.
Ed Reiter says generally they would walk a guard post for about four hours.Then, they were relieved by other guards.Often, disease was rampant. Death rate for the prisoners was 17 percent. Many Confederate soldiers also had smallpox.
This year is a milestone. One hundred fifty years ago, fifty of the Black Union Soldiers were buried in the original post cemetery. Ed Kreiter says the men gave up their newly won freedom to become soldiers fighting for what they believed in and establishing their important place in history.