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Monterey Woman Uncovers Civil War Era Diary
U.S. Navy photo MC2 Patrick Dionne

Monterey Woman Uncovers Civil War Era Diary

By MC2 Patrick Dionne

It’s January 1862, and a man named Josiah Parker Higgins from Boston works at his father’s shoe store. Though he is only 20-years old, he is highly educated for the time, he regularly attends political events, abolitionist meetings and church sponsored gatherings.

A deeply religious man, Higgins yearned to leave Boston and serve God and Country. By February of the same year he had enlisted in the Union Navy as a Yeoman, and from then on, he would thoroughly document his experiences in a journal.

More than 100 years later, that journal was unearthed in the basement of Monterey resident Elaine Herrmann, who originally found the book in the 1980s in a house that previously belonged to an elderly friend of her mother.

Herrmann kept the journal stored in her basement unaware of its significance until one day in the mid-1990s while flipping through its pages she discovered a familiar word … “Farragut.”

“I realized then and there that this was something of historical importance and I remembered from history classes that Adm. David Farragut was an important officer in  the Civil War,” Herrmann said.

Over the course of the next five years, Herrmann painstakingly went through the diary transcribing it.

“I felt compelled to transcribe this young man’s story because, as a mother, I felt a sense of duty to his family and even his long dead parents to have his story told,” she continued. “If there is one thing I hope people take away from this is that you should always keep the things that your grandparents and elders give to you, because you can never know what you can discover.”

The journal covers Higgins experiences as a Yeoman serving aboard the USS Kennebec, a Union gunboat in Farragut's West Gulf Blockading Squadron over a two-year period. During this time, he covers events including capturing Confederate ships and taking prisoners onboard, rumors of mutiny and his own near death experience when a chunk of ice destroyed his work desk.

Following her transcriptions, Herrmann used resources from the Naval Postgraduate School’s Dudley Knox Library. Through this she was able to probably annotate the journal to include the names of ships, dates of events and background information on important battles.

If you are interested in Civil War history or the story of the journal, Herrmann will be giving a lecture at 2pm on Saturday, Aug. 18th at Old Capitol Books in Monterey, California. The lecture will cover the history of the journal and her journey to bring the story to light. For more information, visit: https://oldcapitolbooks.com/2014/10/19/civil-war-diary-discovery-in-monterey-presentation-at-old-capitol-books/.


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August 2018

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