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."