Justus McKinstry

Justus McKinstry, chiefly celebrated for having been one of the most thoroughgoing rogues ever to wear a United States uniform, was born July 6, 1814, in New York State, probably in Columbia County. He moved with his parents to Michigan as a young boy and was appointed to the Military Academy from there. He was graduated in the class of 1838 which furnished an unusually large proportion of general officers to the Union and Confederate armies. McKinstry's early career was meritorious, and at the battles of Contreras and Churubusco in the war with Mexico, while a quartermaster with the staff rank of captain, he commanded a company of volunteers in such gallant fashion that he was awarded the brevet of major. He subsequently served on quartermaster duty on the United States-Mexico boundary and in California, and at the outbreak of the Civil War was in St. Louis as chief quartermaster of the Department of the West. On September 2, 1861, he was made a brigadier general of volunteers and commanded a division under John C. Fremont in the latter's march to Springfield. While in charge of the quartermaster's department, he had found ample opportunity to line his own pockets at the expense of the government. Among the exactions levied upon the contractors who wished to do business with his office was a three-thousand dollar silver service for Mrs. McKinstry. The contractors' usual procedure for absorbing these obligations was for one contractor to bill another for goods at an enormous advance in price; these goods would then be sold to the quartermaster's department at "market." One St. Louis firm admitted profits of $280,000 on sales of $800,000 in a few months under the administration of McKinstry. Upon the succession of General David Hunter to command of the department, McKinstry's peculations were investigated. And after a year in arrest he was cashiered, January 28, 1863, "for neglect and violation of duty, to the prejudice of good order and military discipline," the only such sentence handed a general officer in the war. His later record is obscure. For a time he was a stockbroker in New York; then he went to Rolla, Missouri, as a "land agent." He died in St. Louis on December 11, 1897, and was buried in Highland Cemetery, Ypsilanti, Michigan, the home of a son.

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Reference: Generals in Blue. Lives of the Union Commanders by Ezra J. Warner. Louisiana State University Press. Baton Rouge.