Prince visits the city of Marquette

Marquette’s Lower Harbor is pictured in 1860, the year before Prince Napoleon’s visit. (Photo courtesy of the Marquette Regional History Center)

MARQUETTE — In August 1861, the United States was consumed by news of the Civil War but in the Upper Peninsula a royal visitor gained significant attention as well.

Prince Napoleon of France, first cousin of Emperor Napoleon III, spent two weeks in the Great Lakes region while on a world tour. Part of the purpose of his tour was to assess the two sides of the newly begun American Civil War.

Prince Napoleon Joseph Charles Paul Bonaparte (usually called Napoleon-Jerome or Jerome Bonaparte and nicknamed Plon-Plon) and his party arrived in New York City in late July 1861 having already visited North Africa, Portugal and Canada. New York did not appeal to the prince who called it “a large, sad city, with nothing picturesque or original to it: the English style but on a larger scale.”

The first part of the American leg of the tour was spent on the East Coast, including a disastrous visit to President Lincoln and several Union generals at the White House. The prince was reportedly offended by the lack of pomp and ceremony when he arrived particularly noting the lack of a doorman, remarking “You walk straight in, like in a cafe.” Then, further annoyed after the president misidentified the prince’s father, Napoleon reportedly gave Lincoln the silent treatment for the remainder of the visit.

Following a state dinner, Prince Napoleon visited Mount Vernon and toured Bull Run just two weeks after the first battle occurred on July 21, 1861. Under a white flag of truce, the prince crossed the lines to visit several Confederate generals in Virginia. From there, the group departed for Cleveland by train. In Cleveland they boarded the North Star, an American steamer, for a trip through the Great Lakes.

A painting of Prince Napoleon in 1860 by Hippolyte Flandrin is shown. (Photo courtesy of the Marquette Regional History Center)

After passing Detroit, the boat arrived at Port Huron where it was greeted by a large crowd estimated at two to three thousand people and a salute (of an unknown number of guns) was fired in his honor. The crowd was reportedly anxious to see him. After prolonged calls by the crowd, he made his appearance and took off his hat but refused to say anything.

During a stop at Sault Ste. Marie, a Native American guide transported the prince over the Saint Mary’s Rapids in his birch bark canoe. They continued on the steamer North Star, arriving in Marquette on Aug. 22, 1861. From Marquette, the Prince and his party took a train to the “Iron Mountains” visiting the iron mines in Ishpeming and Negaunee. A news account reported that “Napoleon was very much pleased with every thing he saw.”

One of the prince’s aides later wrote that, “Marquette is much like Sault Ste. Marie, at least from the outside. The same wooden houses and same boardwalks. Marquette was built right in the middle of the forest and they cleared just enough to make room for the houses. To open a new street…they clear the forests! We found a very active, noisy, shifting population of Americans and emigrants who are here not to settle down but to make a quick fortune…Marquette exists today only to link the rest of the world to the iron ore mines.”

From Marquette, the prince and his entourage continued by boat to Bayfield, Wisconsin. Next they visited Chicago and St. Louis where they observed the western theater of operations before finally returning to the East Coast and eventually Europe.

Regardless of Prince Napoleon’s poor view of President Lincoln, France remained officially neutral throughout the Civil War and never recognized the Confederate States of America.


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