The bulk of the McKinney papers, 57 items, consists of letters written by David McKinney to his sister, Jeanette, and other siblings between June 25, 1863, and December 9, 1865, covering most of the period of his military service. As quartermaster, McKinney had little combat experience, though his descriptions of conditions during the siege of Vicksburg (13) and the battles of Sabine Cross Roads and Pleasant Hill (30) are detailed and colorful. He comments frequently and forthrightly about generals, generalship, and Copperheads and often alludes to the French presence in Mexico. McKinney's letters are perhaps most noteworthy for the interesting and unusual glimpse they offer into the workings of the Quartermaster's Department. Particularly in his letters from Mouth of White River (47-63), McKinney provides detailed discussions of his responsibilities and his brushes with the ubiquitous profiteers. In a later letter (66), he describes his personal role in the reconstruction of the South -- the hiring of a former Rebel colonel as a teamster.
The remainder of the collection, 24 items, consists of miscellaneous materials relating to various members of McKinney's family. Among these items are two Revolutionary-War-era letters (1, 2), a will from 1796 (3), and a series of five letters of recommendation written for David McKinney by his professors at Jefferson College (5). In the post-war period, three items relating to Abraham Smith McKinney's involvement with the Ingleside Plantation are noteworthy (70-72), as are three short letters written by David McKinney just prior to his death (78). Genealogical charts and material regarding the provenance of the papers are located in the last folder of the collection (82).
The most important of these family letters is one written in December, 1859, that includes a discussion of the role of Chambersburg, Pa., as headquarters for John Brown's forces prior to the raid on Harper's Ferry, and an account of the fate of some of the insurrectionists (11).