Thursday, August 06, 2015

Major Archibald Butt and the Sinking of the Titanic

Archibald Butt was the military aide to both Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft.  Butt and his housemate (some say lover), the painter Francis Davis Millet, died during the sinking of the Titanic on April 15, 1912.  Butt was universally recognized for his heroic conduct during the tragedy. His body was never recovered.  President Taft who had come to regard Major Butt, “as a son or a brother”, praised him as a Christian gentleman and the perfect soldier.  Taft wrote, I knew that he would certainly remain on the ship's deck until every duty had been performed and every sacrifice made that properly fell on one charged, as he would feel himself charged, with responsibility for the rescue of others.”  At a May 5 ceremony, Taft broke down weeping, bringing his eulogy to an abrupt end.

As the Titanic sank, the crew prepared the lifeboats and Major Butt helped in the rescue efforts.  One survivor described him as calm and collected, “Major Butt helped…frightened people so wonderfully, tenderly, and yet with such cool and manly firmness.  He was a soldier to the last.”  A cenotaph was erected in the summer of 1913 by his brothers in Section 3 of Arlington National Cemetery at a point that Major Butt had previously selected as his gravesite.  The Butt-Millet Memorial Fountain, a private memorial fountain, located in the President’s Park, adjacent to the White House, was dedicated in October 1913.  Powerful friends argued that Butt (who was an aide to the president) and Millet (who was vice chair of the United States Commission of Fine Arts at the time of his death) were both public servants who deserved to be memorialized separately from private citizens who died in the Titanic disaster. 

Major Archibald Butt

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