Note: This story first appeared on “A Sense of Place”, the collections blog for the Mississippi Department of Archives and History. I wrote it as part of a series commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Titanic’s sinking.
Major Archibald Willingham Butt wasn’t a Mississippian, but he had Mississippi connections. The prominent Titanic victim had at least one family member and several former classmates who were Mississippi residents.
Born in Augusta, Georgia, on September 26, 1865, Butt graduated from the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee, in 1888. Following graduation, he spent several years working as a journalist. He eventually moved to Washington, D.C., where he worked as a correspondent for several southern newspapers, including The Louisville Post, The Atlanta Constitution, The Nashville Banner, The Augusta Chronicle, and The Savannah News. He suspended his journalistic career to accept a position in the Mexican Embassy and later joined the military during the Spanish-American War. He also served in the Philippines and Cuba before becoming an aide to President Theodore Roosevelt in 1908. When President William Howard Taft took office in 1909, Butt remained in Washington as a personal advisor to the president.
Following the Titanic disaster, one of Butt’s relatives, Robert Boggs of Long Beach, Mississippi, received a letter from President Taft. Charles L. Hilles, secretary to the president, sent Boggs a signed copy of the statement that Taft issued regarding Butt’s death:
THE WHITE HOUSE
Washington, April 1912
Major Archie Butt was my Military Aide. He was like a member of my family, and I feel his loss as if he had been a younger brother. The chief trait of his character was loyalty to his ideas, his cloth and his friends. His character was a simple one in the sense that he was incapable of intrigue or insincerity. He was gentle and considerate to everyone, high and low, he never lost, under any conditions, his sense of proper regard to what he considered the respect due to constitute authority. He was an earnest member of the Episcopal church, and loved that communion. He was a soldier, ever inch of him, a most compitent [sic] and successful quartermaster, and a devotee of his profession.
After I heard that part of the ship’s company had gone down, I gave up hope for the rescue of Major Butt, unless by accident. 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 the charged, as he would feel himself charged, with responsibility for the rescue of others.
He leaves the widest circle of friends, whose memory of him is sweet in every particular
Wm. H. Taft
Several Mississippians were college classmates of Major Butt at The University of the South at Sewanee. Among them were Bishop Theodore du Bose Bratton, Rev. William Mercer, Rev. Edward McCready, Dr. T.O. Hunter, and J.D. Ferguson.
From the Daily Herald of Biloxi:
From classmates residing at Biloxi, it is learned that Major Butt was always popular with his schoolmates, and always maintained a good standard of scholarship in college. Later when he went to Washington in the journalistic field and even when he became a busy attaché of the president, he always had time to greet old college friends.
History has regarded Butt as a hero. He has been memorialized in several ways, including the Butt-Millet Memorial Fountain erected in 1913 in Washington, D.C., to honor him and his long-time friend Francis Millet, who also perished in the sinking; and the Butt Memorial Bridge in Augusta, Georgia, dedicated by President Taft in 1914. The fact that his death was felt even in Mississippi shows the strength of his relationships and the magnitude of the Titanic disaster.
1 “Major Archibald Butt,” from The New York Times, April 16, 1912, accessed April 23, 2012, http://www.encyclopedia-titanica.org/major-archibald-butt-3.html. “Major Archibald Butt,” Biography.com, accessed April 23, 2012, http://www.biography.com/people/major-archibald-butt-283834.
2 “Long Beach Kinsman Major Butt Receives Autograph Letter,” The Daily Herald, May 15, 1912.
3 “Biloxians Were Among Classmates of the Late Major Archie W. Butt,” The Daily Herald, April 20, 1912.