Dear Uncles

The Civil War Letters of Arthur McKinstry, a Soldier in the Excelsior Brigade

Edited by Rick Barram

Subjects: New York/regional, American History, General Interest
Series: Excelsior Editions
Imprint: Excelsior Editions
Hardcover : 9781438489971, 368 pages, September 2022
Paperback : 9781438489964, 368 pages, September 2022

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Table of contents

List of Illustrations


1. Installed among Fine and Gentlemanly Fellows: End of May to Mid-July 1861—Joining Up and Departure for New York City

2. As Far as the Eye Can Reach: Late July to End of August 1861—Moving to Protect Washington, DC

3. Into the Doubtful Part of Maryland: September to Mid-October 1861—Camp Near Washington and Patrol to Maryland

4. Down the River and Opposite the Rebels: Late October through November 1861—Arrival in Lower Maryland

5. Where the Bon Vivants Assemble: December 1861—Duty along the Potomac

6. All Frivolous Subjects Are Avoided: January 1862—Occupation of Lower Maryland

7. Every Preparation for Immediate and Active Duty: February to April 1862—Lower Maryland and Forays into Virginia

8. We Expect a Big Fight Very Soon: Mid-April to Early May 1862—Move to the Peninsula and Battle at Williamsburg

9. The Low but Not So Very Soothing Hum of Minie Bullets: The 72nd New York and Excelsior Brigade after Arthur McKinstry



A New York soldier's eyewitness account of life in the first year of the Civil War, from the campgrounds to the battlefields.


Dear Uncles is one young man's story from the beginning of the American Civil War. Taken from letters sent home to family and friends, including correspondence written for his uncles' local newspaper, this book gives an intimate portrait of Arthur McKinstry's journey from a small town in upstate New York to confront Confederate forces in Virginia. Articulate, confident, and observant, McKinstry's letters are written with a journalist's eye and poet's heart, giving us a vivid, humorous, and ultimately heartbreaking view into his experiences of going to war. Whether slogging through rain and mud, waiting for care packages from home, or watching cannonballs land in camp, these dispatches place readers in a young soldier's boots and help them to imagine how family and friends experienced this crisis in American history. Dear Uncles also offers new insights into regimental organization, training, and the often-overlooked attempt of Confederates to blockade Washington, DC's Potomac River supply route. Dear Uncles will fascinate and entertain readers with an interest in American Civil War history.

A retired history and theater arts teacher, Rick Barram resides in northern California. He is the author of The 72nd New York Infantry in the Civil War: A History and Roster.


"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." — Military Images

"There is much here that will appeal to readers … Dear Uncles offers a bounty of information particularly to students of the Excelsior Brigade. The book also provides a unique glimpse of the often-overlooked actions along the Lower Potomac River early in the war." — America's Civil War