This summer, the Ulysses S. Grant Presidential Library received a collection of 50 pieces of correspondence, 37 of which were written by a Arthur McKinstry, a private in the 72nd New York State Regiment during the American Civil War. The bulk of the material spans from 1861-1862 and is addressed to various family members. McKinstry was killed at the battle of Williamsburg, Virginia in 1862; some correspondence concerns his burial at Yorktown, Virginia.
Arthur McKinstry (November 2, 1839-May 5, 1862) was born in Chicopee, Massachusetts to William McKinstry and wife Mary Theodosia Frink. Arthur had one sister, Laura Jane McKinstry. He spent his earliest years in Chicopee, living near his extended family. Arthur's father died when Arthur was five years old. Later, Arthur's mother remarried, and the family moved to Forestville, New York. Arthur's uncles, Willard and Winthrop, lived nearby in Fredonia, New York. They were the proprietors of a newspaper, The Fredonia Censor.
Arthur attended the Annapolis Naval Academy for one year (1854-55) at the age of sixteen. In May 1861, a month and a half after the Civil War began, Arthur, being anxious to serve his country, enrolled himself in the Union Army. He was 21 years old. He served as a Private in the New York State Volunteers Company D 72d Regiment, stationed along the Potomac River near Washington, DC.
During his time of service, Arthur was faithful to write his mother and to his aunts and cousins. The letters in the donated collection were written by Arthur to these individuals. He wrote other letters to his uncles, giving reports and first-hand accounts about Company D. These letters were published in The Fredonia Censor.
Arthur fought and died in the Battle of Williamsburg at the age of 22. He was buried in the cemetery at the Colonial National Park, Yorktown, Virginia, Tomb #143.
Arthur's sister and her family moved to Starkville, Mississippi in the 1880s. Frances Oakley, a Starkville, Mississippi native and descendant of the McKinstry family, contacted the Ulysses S. Grant Library, wishing to donate her treasured family collection.
Ulysses S. Grant Library Executive Director John Marszalek expressed appreciation to the family for this historically valuable donation. The McKinstry letters, he said, were "a significant addition to the Grant collections."
A reception was held to honor Mrs. Oakley for her donation at Mississippi State University July 24. Family members and close friends were in attendance, as well as staff from the Grant Library and MSU Libraries. Mrs. Oakley said, "We are a close family and have always enjoyed and appreciated our heritage. I feel very pleased [the letters] are there and will be of use."