Butt was born in Augusta in 1865 and became an aide to presidents Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft. He was returning aboard the Titanic from a six-week journey in Europe when the ship hit an iceberg April 15, 1912, and sank about 700 nautical miles east of Nova Scotia.
On Wednesday, historian Russell K. Brown gave a lecture at the Augusta Museum of History about the life of Butt, who was born to a grocer living on Reynolds Street. Butt started as a newspaper reporter, but a correspondent position in Washington, D.C., led him to become an assistant to the ambassador to Mexico.
Military service followed in the Philippines and Cuba in the aftermath of the Spanish-American War until he was tapped by Roosevelt in 1908 to become his military aide. Butt stayed in that position with Taft, whom he accompanied to baseball games and even a round of golf in Augusta at the Bon Air course.
“He got along famously with both presidents,” Brown said.
Officially, Butt’s mission to Europe was to deliver a word of thanks from Taft to Pope Pius X for three new cardinals. But the trip to Italy was also a chance to relieve some stress caused by the looming split in the Republican Party and Butt’s now-divided allegiance to both presidents.
When the Titanic began to sink, witnesses said Butt helped calm the panicked evacuation. He was among the roughly 1,500 people who died in the disaster.
Two years after his death, the Butt Memorial Bridge over the Augusta Canal at 15th Street was dedicated in his memory, the only Titanic memorial in Georgia.
The Augusta Canal National Heritage Area will hold two tours along the canal this weekend in Butt’s memory. They begin at 10 a.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday at the Augusta Canal Interpretive Center at Enterprise Mill, 1450 Greene St. The cost is $2 per person.