Major Archibald Butt Biography

Military Leader(1865–1912)
Major Archibald Butt was a trusted presidential aide and known hero aboard the doomed RMS Titanic.

Synopsis

Archibald Butt became an aide to President Theodore Roosevelt in 1908 and stayed on as an adviser when President William Howard Taft took office in 1909. He boarded the doomed RMS Titanic in April 1912, and is remembered for his heroic actions while the ship sank. A close friend of Butt, President Taft, gave the eulogy at his memorial service.

Rise to Presidential Aide

Archibald Willingham Butt was born on September 26, 1865, in Augusta, Georgia. A distinguished military officer and aide to U.S. presidents Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft, Major Archibald Butt was one of the heroes of the RMS Titanic disaster of 1912.

A graduate of the University of the South, Butt worked as a journalist for several years after finishing his education. He started out at the Louisville Courier Journal. After later moving to Washington, D.C., Butt became a correspondent for a series of southern newspapers in the nation's capital city.

For a time, Butt worked in the Mexican Embassy for General Matt W. Ransom. He then joined the military during the Spanish-American War. Soon after the war ended, Butt served as a volunteer in the Philippines, rising to the rank of captain. He later served in Cuba before becoming an aide to President Theodore Roosevelt in 1908. Well regarded, Butt stayed on as an advisor when President William Howard Taft took office in 1909.

In 1912, Butt took a trip to Europe, which was supposed to be a vacation. But he caused a lot of speculation about his journey when he went to visit the Pope Pius X at the Vatican in late March. Butt, however, remained tight-lipped about the purpose of his visit with the press. A short time later, he decided to return to the United States, booking passage on the maiden voyage of the Titanic. Butt was accompanied on this journey by his friend Francis Millet, a writer and an artist.

Titanic

Butt and Millet boarded the ship on April 10, 1912, in Southampton, England. The Titanic was supposed to be one of the sturdiest and most luxurious ocean liners ever built. And its launch was met with a lot of media fanfare. On the night of April 14, Butt attended a private dinner party in the ship's a la carte restaurant thrown by George and Eleanor Widener, part of a wealthy Philadelphia family that made their fortune in streetcar and railway operations. Other attendees included the ship's captain Edward J. Smith and railroad executive John B. Thayer.

Later that evening, around 11:40 p.m., the Titanic struck an iceberg. The vessel was damaged in the collision and began taking in water. As the crew prepared the lifeboats, Butt helped in the rescue efforts. One survivor, Renee Harris, told The New York Times of his heroism. Describing him as calm and collected, she said that he helped the sailors with the boats and lifted women inside them. He even stopped a man from entering one of the boats, saying "women will be attended to first or I'll break every ... bone in your body," according Harris's account. She went on to say "Major Butt helped ... frightened people so wonderfully, tenderly, and yet with such cool and manly firmness. He was a soldier to the last."

The Titanic sunk into the Atlantic Ocean after 2 a.m. the following morning.T hough he was lost in the disaster, Butt has long been remembered for his heroism on that deadly night. A close friend of Butt, President Taft gave the eulogy at his memorial service. A fountain was built to honor Butt and his friend Millet in Washington, D.C., in 1913. The monument can still be found in the President's Park at the White House.

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