Site Overlay

A Soldier-Reporter Covers the Civil War

Citizen-soldiers volunteered to join the Civil War armies for varied motivations: patriotism, adventure, politics, money, and opportunity, to name a few. Arthur McKinstry had an additional and unique motivation. He went to war to report it for his family’s newspaper.

This arrangement had a significant advantage. Effectively an embedded journalist, 21-year-old McKinstry covered the largest story of the day, and in American history, for his community. It also had a significant disadvantage. McKinstry, as a private in Company D of the 72nd New York Infantry, risked death from wounds or disease. He, and his uncles, who published the Fredonia Censor in Chautauqua County, N.Y., gambled that the benefit would outweigh the risk.

Author Rick Barram, a retired history and theater arts teacher and the author of The 72nd New York Infantry in the Civil War: A History and Roster, showcases McKinstry’s writings in this volume published by the State University of New York. Barram’s skills as a researcher and editor are evident as he contextualizes the material, which breathes life into a regiment off at war. McKinstry’s letters are interspersed with “Other Voices,” which feature letters and reports offering a range of viewpoints that balance the book.

McKinstry’s reporting reveals a keen observer with a natural gift of expression with pen and paper. His accounts of soldier life brought the war home to anxious and excited readers of the Censor.

The quality of McKinstry’s writing and the topics he explored put him in league with talented early-career journalists of any era. McKinstry must have looked forward to reporting other major stories after the war and someday becoming editor and publisher of his own newspaper. But as you’ll learn, it would not come to pass. The risk of death in battle was realized, and with it an irreplaceable loss to a family, a community, and the media.

Dear Uncles: The Civil War Letters of Arthur McKinstry, a Soldier in the Excelsior Brigade
Edited by Rick Barram
352 pages
Excelsior Editions
Softcover (available through major booksellers and

SPREAD THE WORD: We encourage you to share this story on social media and elsewhere to educate and raise awareness. If you wish to use any image on this page for another purpose, please request permission.

LEARN MORE about Military Images, America’s only magazine dedicated to showcasing, interpreting and preserving Civil War portrait photography.

VISIT OUR STORE to subscribe, renew a subscription, and more.

Scroll Up