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Major Archibald Willingham Butt (September 26, 1865 – April 15, 1912) was an influential military aide to U.S. presidents Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft. Before becoming an aide to Roosevelt, Butt had pursued a career in journalism and served in the Spanish-American War. After a six week vacation in Europe in 1912, he boarded the ocean liner RMS Titanic. On the night of April 14 the Titanic struck an iceberg and sank the next morning with Butt being one of the 1,500 victims of the disaster. Stories of his actions while the ship was sinking made him one of the heroes of the disaster.
Archibald Willingham Butt was born in Augusta, Georgia to Joshua Willingham Butt and Pamela Robertson. The Butt family was prominent in Augusta and Butt led a typical youth life in the city. Archibald Butt attended the University of the South in Tennessee, graduating in 1888. He was also initiated as a member to the Delta Tau Delta fraternity during his college years. Butt began a career in journalism with his first position at the Louisville Courier-Journal and thereafter became a reporter in Washington, D.C. covering the Capitol for several Southern newspapers, including The Atlanta Constitution and the Nashville Banner. While Butt was working in Washington he became the first secretary for the American Embassy in Mexico with former Senator Matt Ransom.
In 1898, during the Spanish-American War, Butt joined the army as a lieutenant. He served in the Philippines from 1900 through 1906 and afterwards in Cuba. After Cuba, in 1908, the now Major Butt became a military aide to President Theodore Roosevelt. When William Howard Taft became President the following year, Butt stayed on in the same capacity.
By 1912, Taft's first term was coming to an end and Roosevelt was known to be considering a run against him. Very close to both men and fiercely loyal, Butt was caught in the middle. As his health was deteriorating during this period, he asked Taft for a leave of absence to recuperate before the presidential primaries began.
Accompanies President Taft to throw out baseball's first pitch
At the baseball Washington Senators' 1910 home opener, the sight of the nation's 335-pound chief executive hurling a baseball toward the mound from his seat in American League Park delighted the spectators. "It was the first time in history," one scribe wrote, "that a President of the United States has opened a game of professional baseball or had attempted to rival the honors of Mathewson, Mordecai Brown, Walter Johnson, et al."
"TAFT TOSSES BALL," announced The Washington Post. "Crowd Cheers President's Fine Delivery of the Sphere."
The tradition born that afternoon sputtered in the early years. Taft threw out the first ball again in 1911, attending the game with his close friend and military aide Archibald Butt, who had sat with the president in 1910, too. Then four days before the 1912 home opener, while he was returning from Europe -- from a vacation he had taken at Taft's urging -- Butt went down with the Titanic.
"Yesterday the president could not be present for obvious reasons," The Post reported after Opening Day.
Aboard the Titanic
In the early spring of 1912 Butt's health took a turn for the worse; urged to rest by both President Taft and his wife, he left on a six-week vacation of Europe. He was accompanied for part of his vacation by the American painter Francis David Millet. Butt's only known official work during his vacation was a visit with Pope Pius X, during which he delivered to the pontiff a personal message from Taft. Butt booked passage on the RMS Titanic for his return to the United States. He boarded the Titanic at Southampton, UK on April 10, 1912; his friend Millet boarded the ship at Cherbourg, France later that same day. Butt was playing cards on the night of April 14 in the first-class smoking room when the Titanic struck an iceberg. The ship sank at 2:20 AM the next morning.
Major Butt's actions on board the ship while it was sinking are largely unverified, but many accounts of a typically sensationalist nature were published by newspapers after the disaster. According to some accounts, Titanic captain Edward J. Smith informed Butt that the "ship was doomed" and that "lifeboats were being readied." Butt immediately began acting as another officer of the ship, herding women and children into the lifeboats. One account tells of Butt staving off desperate steerage men trying to crowd the boats to escape. Walter Lord's book A Night to Remember disagrees with claims that Butt acted like an officer, claiming he was more likely quietly observing the ship's evacuation. Butt died during the sinking; his remains, if found, were not identified.
As Archibald Butt's remains were not recovered, a cenotaph was erected in Section 3 of Arlington National Cemetery. On May 2, 1912, a memorial service was held in the Butt family home with 1,500 mourners, including President Taft, attending. Taft spoke at the service where he said,
- "If Archie could have selected a time to die he would have chosen the one God gave him. 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. 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."
The Washington National Cathedral contains a large plaque dedicated to Major Archibald Butt. It can be found on the wall in the Museum Store.
- ^ Lynch, Don (1993). Titanic: An Illustrated History. Hyperion. ISBN 0-7868-8147-X.
- ^ Rutman, Sharon and Jay Stevenson (1998). The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Titanic. Alpha Books. ISBN 0-02-862712-1.
- ^ Lord, Walter (1955). A Night to Remember. Page 78. Bantam Books. ISBN 0-553-27827-4.
- ^ "Archibald Willingham Butt: Major, United States Army". Arlington National Cemetery Website. Unknown parameter
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- Hustak, Alan, Hermann Söldner, Craig Stringer and Geoff Whitfield. "Major Archibald Willingham Butt". Encyclopedia Titanica. Unknown parameter
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