Soldier’s Staten Island resting place

regains a measure of ‘Glory’

November 11, 2010 at 1:40 AM, updated November 11, 2010 at 12:00 PM

Staten Island Advance/Jan Somma-HammelJim Hill and Ronald Washington, in period dress, install new marker at the grave of Pvt. Robert Howard, who served in the all-black Civil War regiment commanded by Col. Robert Gould Shaw of Livingston.

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — At the far end of Lake Cemetery, beneath brush and bramble and in the shadows of the Staten Island Expressway, lies the grave of Pvt. Robert Howard.
Howard joined freed slaves, laborers and men of means when he enlisted in Col. Robert Gould Shaw’s all-black 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Regiment on April 15, 1863.

He survived the 1863 assault at Fort Wagner that claimed the life of his colonel and half his troops, and was buried in Lake Cemetery in Graniteville upon his death on March 27, 1908.

What happened to his headstone — records indicate it was there at least until the early 1920s — is as much a mystery as to why or when the Pennsylvania native made his home on Staten Island. Yesterday, Howard’s grave was made whole again as Livingston resident Ron Washington, dressed in period clothing, hammered a marker into the dirt of Section G, Row 8.

“[Shaw’s] parents advocated for their son and his men to have one memory,” Washington said. “They never intended his story to become a separate part of history. This is a reminder of the importance of keeping the legacy of Col. Shaw and his Pvt. Robert Howard alive.”

Washington, who rents the Davis Avenue home once owned by Shaw — the colonel immortalized in the 1989 movie “Glory — is also the president of a committee that will celebrate the borough’s place in the Civil War on its 150th anniversary next year.

“This entire story line is really about the transformation of human beings’ lives, both enslaved and free,” he said. “These two men were destined to better serve the evolution of American history.”
Howard’s burial plot was uncovered by Friends of Abandoned Cemeteries volunteer Jim Hill, a Port Richmond resident, who studied old records to map the 2.8-acre burial ground.