In early 1861 when the Confederacy was young and the Southern people had yet to feel the hard hand of war, Mississippians by the thousands were eager to join up and serve their new country. Most of them were young men, full of energy and just itching to fight. There were older veterans that offered their services to the South, most of whom had served as enlisted men or junior officers in the Mexican War. But there were a few, a very few, who fought in even earlier conflicts than the Mexican War. One such old-timer was Peter Ulrick of Daleville, Mississippi. In the spring of 1861 he wrote to Governor John J. Pettus, tendering his expertise in naval matters to the service of the state. His letter is preserved in the John J. Pettus Correspondence at the Mississippi Department of Archives & History:
Daleville, State of Miss., Lauderdale County
April 1st, 1861
Most Honoured Sir,
I am a citizen of this county and state and have been for several years, but find that my old adopted state has weighed anchor, and joined the glorious Confederacy. Therefore I tender my services to the State of Miss., as an old practiced seaman and commander of any craft, to secure the coast, and bays of Miss., Alabama & Florida and defend the same from any foreign power or state.
I am an Old Sea Dog. I was mate on board the U. State Frigate Constitution at the taking of H.B. Majesty’s Ship Guerriere, and had the pleasure of welcoming Captain Dacre on board of the U. State Constitution. I then recd. a warrant as Sailing Master in the U. State service, and was sent to Charleston S. Carolina to take charge of the U.S. Schooner Nonsuch under command of Commodore Dent and Patterson. We sailed upon a cruise and on the second day fell in with and captured the Calledonia an English Privateer from New Providence, mounting 11 long guns and carrying 60 negroes, with a black commander and we took two yankey schooners laden with flour. The battle was fought off Tybee Light House at the mouth of Savannah River, and your humble servant had the pleasure of taking her into Savannah as Prize master, with the Stars and Stripes flying over the Ramping Lyon of old England.
After a few weeks rest and having some damage repaired, that I received in the action, I was sent on board the U.S. Schooner Caroline under Commodore Patterson and started for the Gulf to watch the British fleet as to their whereabouts. I then took charge of Gunboat No. 163 with five other boats to break up Lafitte (the pirate) strong hold on Lake Borgne. We were then on the watch for the British fleet, to lookout for them landing we had six gunboats under the command of Lieutenant Jones (now commodore ap Jones). We were engaged by 43 boats from the squadron and were captured after selling our men and craft at a high premium. There were 800 men and guns against 180 men. We were taken on board this fleet, as prisoners of war. We lost one third of our men and were kept prisoners of war until general Jackson flogged them from New Orleans and peace was declared.
I have been living a retired life for some time from active service upon the ocean, but feel willing to with the greatest cheerfulness to embark in the service of my state and Confederacy. I could be of great service to the teaching of young officers their duty and train them on the right way.
I now tender my service to the State of Miss., in the capacity of Commander from a gun boat to Seventy four ___ in any capacity where big guns are used for the purpose of defending my country from any foe whatever. I sincerely pray through your excellency that I may receive a call. Once more, to serve in defense of my country.
Will your Excellency have the goodness to respond to the above, and please say if you need the service of such a man as I represent myself to be. If you do, I can be ready for a all in twenty four hours.
I am your excellency
After reading Ulrick’s compelling narrative of his service in the War of 1812, I was compelled to find out more about Peter Ulrick – could it be possible that he actually served in the Confederate navy during the Civil War?
I started by looking for Peter Ulrick in the 1860 U.S. Census, and quickly found my man: 65 year old Peter Ulrick, a native of Pennsylvania, was listed as living in Daleville, Lauderdale County, Mississippi, with his wife Elizabeth, age 60. At the time the census was taken Ulrick was making his living as a small farmer, reporting that he owned real estate worth $500, and having a personal estate worth $400.
My next step was to see if I could find any evidence that Ulrick had served as a sailor, and thanks to Ancestry.com, I located the
Seaman’s Protection Certificate taken out by him on November 12, 1805, when he was 15 years old. These certificates basically served as a sailor’s passport, proving his place of birth, and offering him some protection from impressment by the British. Ulrick’s certificate stated he was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and described him as being four feet, nine inches tall, with light hair and hazel eyes. It also stated he had a scar on his right cheek, and a pit from small pox near the corner of his right eye.
I tried to find some verification that Ulrick served in the War of 1812, but unfortunately was unable to locate anything online. It will probably take some correspondence with the National Archives to determine the details of Ulrick’s service in the war. If the old sailor did what he claimed he did, Ulrick was a veteran of one of the most celebrated naval battles of the War of 1812: the victory of the USS Constitution over the H.M.S. Guerriere on August 19, 1812. On that date the Constitution, a frigate commanded by Captain Isaac Hull, met and decisively defeated the frigate Guerriere, commanded by Captain James R. Dacres.
In addition to serving on the Constitution, Ulrick also claimed to have fought in the Battle of Lake Borgne, one of the most celebrated naval actions to take place along the Gulf Coast. On December 14, 1814, a small U.S. naval force of five gunboats and two tenders protecting the navigable waterways leading to New Orleans met a British force of forty-five barges loaded with 1,200 sailors and marines. The American vessels, commanded by Lieutenant Thomas ap Catesby Jones, put up a fierce resistance despite being terribly outnumbered, killing or wounding 94 of the enemy for the loss of six killed and thirty-five wounded. The Americans lost the battle and the survivors spent the rest of the war as prisoners, but their sacrifice had not been in vain. Their stout resistance at Lake Borgne delayed the British attack on New Orleans, giving General Andrew Jackson much needed time to prepare his defenses.
In the course of my research, I did find one other bit of information about Peter Ulrick – in the newspaper The National Crisis, February 1, 1861, was this brief article: “Peter Ulrick, who served on board the U.S. frigate Constitution when she captured the Guerriere, in the war of 1812, and was subsequently a sailing master in the navy, has tendered his services to Alabama, in any capacity where ‘big guns’ are to be used.”
Apparently Ulrick sent a letter offering his services to the Governor of Alabama as well as to Governor Pettus of Mississippi. Whether
either of the men took the veteran up on his offer remains to be seen. I do know that Ulrick survived the war, dying on October 1, 1868. He is buried in Catholic Cemetery at Mobile, Alabama. I will keep looking into the history of this “Old Sea Dog,” and if I find out anything else about his service during the Civil War, I will post it here.