Archibald W. Butt was born in Augusta, Georgia on September 26, 1865. Butt was tall and distinguished looking , the stereotypical Southern gentleman. He had served as aide to Teddy Roosevelt and when William Howard Taft became president in 1908, Major Butt continued with Taft. He developed a strong friendship with both men and by the last year of Taft's presidency Butt was caught in an impossible situation. Taft had become extremely unpopular by this time and Roosevelt was beginning to make overtures of running again to defeat Taft. Butt was torn between these two men and requested a leave of absence to travel to Europe and relax before being drawn in to the upcoming presidential campaign.
Butt was exceptionally loyal to Taft. At the White House New Year's reception of 1912, Butt had jacked up the Secret Service's guest counting machines by a thousand, so that Taft would not have be faced with such a stark statement of his unpopularity. That was the kind of man Archibald Butt was.
Major Butt's usefulness at official functions at the White House was legendary. At a reception given for the leading members of America's judiciary, he presented an incredible 1,275 people to President Taft in a single hour.
On the night of April 14th Major Butt had dined with Captain Smith at the Widener Dinner Party in the à la carte Restaurant. After dinner Butt and his friends retired to the Café Parisien a popular place for Titanic's First Class to meet and people watch. When the Titanic struck the iceberg at 11:40 p.m. Major Butt was informed by Captain Smith that the ship was doomed and that the lifeboats were being readied. Butt immediately sprang into action and became another officer on board the ship. He gave words of encouragement to the weeping women and children, and giving stern commands when needed to the slow and inefficient crew members.
Mrs. Henry B. Harris, said in an interview about Major Butt:
"I saw Major Butt just before they put me into a collapsible raft with ever so many women from the steerage. Mr. Millet's little smile, which played on his lips all through the voyage, had gone, but when I was put in the boat I saw him wave his hand to a woman in another boat."
"But oh, this whole world should rise in praise of Major Butt. The man's conduct will remain in my memory forever; the he showed some of the other men how to behave when women and children were suffering that awful mental fear that came when we had to be huddled into those boats. Major Butt was near me, and I know very nearly everything he did."
"When the order to take to the boats came he became as one in supreme command. You would have thought he was at a White House Reception, so cool and calm was he. A dozen or so women became hysterical all at once as something connected with a lifeboat went
wrong. Major Butt stepped to them and said: 'Really you must not act like that; we are all going to see you through this thing.'
"He helped the sailors rearrange the rope or chain that had gone wrong and lifted some of the women in with gallantry. His was the manner we associate with the word aristocrat."
Archibald Butt died that night and his remains were never recovered. Many stories regarding Butt's gallantry were printed in the press after the tragedy. In a book titled: "Memorial Edition Sinking of the Titanic-Thrilling Stories Told By Survivors", entered according to act of Congress in the year 1912, by Geo. W. Bertron, The Office of the Librarian of Congress, at Washington, D.C., U.S.A., a special page is devoted to the memorial services held for Archibald Butt in Augusta, Georgia. The following is from that page:
Fifteen hundred sincere mourners for Major Archibald W. Butt, lost on the Titanic, wept unashamed at his home in Augusta, Georgia, on May 2, when President Taft called his former aid affectionately by his first name and choked with tears as he paid a personal tribute to the army officers.
It was a monster memorial service for the soldier, where all Augusta paid homage to his memory. President Taft was the main speaker. He was deeply affected by the
"If Archie could have selected a time to die he would have chosen the one God gave him," the President said, his voice broken with emotion.
"His life was spent in self-sacrifice, serving others. His forgetfulness of self had become a part of his nature.
"Everybody who knew him called him Archie."
"I couldn't prepare anything in advance to say here," the President continued. "I tried, but couldn't. He was too near me. He was loyal to my predecessor, Mr. Roosevelt, who selected him to be military aide, and to me he had become as a son or a brother."
Taft pictured a new side to Major Butt's character-his love for his mother.
" I think he never married because of that love for her who was taken from him two years ago," the President declared.
After Major Butt's Memorial Service Taft fell into a deep depression and along with Teddy Roosevelt leaving the Republican party after Taft's nomination, Woodrow Wilson won the election later in 1912. Taft served as Professor of Law at Yale until President Harding made him Chief Justice of the United States, a position he held until his death in 1930. To Taft, the appointment was his greatest honor; he wrote: "I don't remember that I ever was President."
Even though Archibald Butt was a major political force in 1912 and an honored Titanic hero, today he is hardly remembered. Most Titanic books scarcely mention him and most films ignore him entirely. Most likely it's due to his quiet competence and his kind nature which figured so importantly that night of April 14th. He was not a flashy man and did not try to steal the spotlight.
Today, there is a fountain near the White House in his honor along with a Memorial Marker at Arlington National Cemetery and a bridge in Augusta, Georgia. To learn more about these memorials click here to see photos of them and read about my experience in finding his unknown marker at Arlington National Cemetery.
Major Archibald Willingham Butt, 45, from Washington DC, USA boarded the Titanic at Southampton with his friend Francis D. Millet.
An influential military aide to President William Howard Taft and President Theodore Roosevelt, Archibald Butt was born into a prominent Augusta, Georgia, family. After his graduation in 1888 from the University of the South in Tennessee, Butt began a career in journalism, first writing for the Louisville Courier Journal and later as a reporter in Washington for a group of Southern newspapers. While working in Washington he became secretary of the Mexican Embassy with General "Matt" Ransom, Confederate officer and former United States senator from North Carolina.
In 1898 Butt left Mexico to enter the United States army as a lieutenant during the Spanish-American War, and decided to make the military a second career. He served in the Philippines from 1900 to 1906, then in Cuba before becoming military aide to President Theodore Roosevelt in 1908. Butt's health began to deteriorate in 1912 because of his attempts to remain neutral during the bitter personal quarrel between Roosevelt and Taft. Needing rest, he took six weeks' leave from the White House and sailed for Europe with his close friend Francis Millet, who was en-route to Rome on business at the American Academy which he directed. They were returning to Washington on the Titanic.
Following the disaster rumours circulated that Ms Marie Grice Young had conversed with Major Butt during the sinking and she was forced the write to the president to set the record straight.
May 10, 1912 Briarcliff Lodge, Briarcliff Manor, New York.
President William H. Taft
Dear Mr. President:
I have read an account of the Memorial Service held in Washington recently in honor of Major Archibald Butt, at which service the Secretary of War alluded to a farewell conversation supposed to have taken place between Major Butt and myself. Had such a conversation taken place I should not have delayed one hour in giving you every detail of the last hours of your special Aide & friend.
"Although a Washingtonian I did not know Major Butt, having been in deep mourning for several years. The alleged "interview" is entirely an invention, by some officious reporter; who thereby brought much distress to many of Major Butt's near relatives and friends... for when they wrote me of what a comfort the story was to them, I had to tell them it was untrue, as no such deception could be carried through.
They wrote me that through Mrs. Sloan's kindness, they obtained my address... and I immediately wrote Mrs. Sloan that there was no truth in this newspaper story.
When I last saw Major Butt, he was walking on deck, with Mr. Clarence Moore, on Sunday afternoon.
With deep regret that I could not be his messenger to you, Believe me,
Very sincerely yours
(Miss) Marie G. Young
After their deaths the Millet-Butt Memorial Fountain was erected to their memory in Washington, DC