Augustan became part of history in Titanic sinking

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Archie Butt, the Augusta native who served as military aide to two U.S. presidents, had concerns about the ship taking him across the Atlantic in the spring of 1912. But it wasn’t the RMS Titanic.

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 Augusta's Maj. Archie Butt served as military aide to two presidents. He is said to be one of the most heroic figures during the sinking of the Titanic.  EMILY ROSE BENNETT/STAFF
EMILY ROSE BENNETT/STAFF
Augusta's Maj. Archie Butt served as military aide to two presidents. He is said to be one of the most heroic figures during the sinking of the Titanic.

This was the SS Berlin, a 3-year-old steam­ship that would take him as an emissary to the Vatican on behalf of President William Howard Taft. Butt was so certain the ship would sink en route that he wrote in one of his last letters: “Don’t forget that all my papers are in the storage warehouse, and if the old ship goes down you will find my affairs in shipshape condition.”

Traveling home a month later aboard the White Star line’s “virtually unsinkable” luxury liner seemed a fitting means of travel for the man who planned all the galas and soirees at the White House. Butt, a major who padded his epaulets with enough gold braid to suit an admiral, was much more at home aboard the Titanic, which boasted the first swimming pool aboard a ship and a Parisian cafe with French waiters.

But if he was a peacock in appearance – he left for Italy wearing a lavender tie and red porcelain buttons – Butt, 46, was a hawk in character. He had to keep pace with Teddy Roosevelt, who Butt said “swims and plays tennis merely for the pleasure of straining his muscles and shouting.”

Unlike Roosevelt, Taft’s most strenuous activity usually occurred at the dinner table, but serving as an unofficial bodyguard for him carried its own challenges. Butt related the difficulty of Christmas shopping incognito with Taft in a diary entry dated Dec. 25, 1909. When one man extended his hand to the president, Butt gave him a punch in the gut and hissed “fool” under his breath.

“Oh, I only whispered to him not to begin to shake hands, that it would start the whole store doing it,” Butt told the president later.

A humble start

In the stories of the final hours of the Titanic, Butt stayed true to character. It’s said, for instance, that he was the one who ordered women and children to evacuate first and that he threatened to “break the bones” of a man caught sneaking onto a life boat.

At his memorial service May 2, two years before a bridge was dedicated in Butt’s honor over the Augusta Canal at 15th Street, retired Confederate Col. Joseph B. Cum­ming was reluctant to embellish the already growing myth of the Titanic and Butt’s life.

But he believed the eyewitness accounts because they were in character with Butt’s life.

“We know that is true because it is so like Archie,” Cumming said.

Born Archibald Willing­ham Butt on Sept. 26, 1865, he was the third son of Joshua and Pamela Butt, of 194 Reynolds St. The Butts were one of the oldest Colonial families in Georgia, but the Civil War had devastated its fortunes.

Butt’s father died when he was 14, so he worked odd jobs around Augusta to help make ends meet. An arrangement with the rector at Church of the Good Shepherd Episcopal Church on Walton Way allowed him to enroll in the University of the South in Sewanee, Tenn.

Students said Butt was not fond of the military training at the school, but he did have a flair for newspaper reporting. Several jobs at newspapers around the South, including the Macon Telegraph, led him to Washington, D.C., where he served as a correspondent.

Exposure to the nation’s movers and shakers landed him a position as assistant to the ambassador to Mexico. He traveled to the Philippines in the aftermath of the Spanish-American War and received a commission as captain in the regular Army while in Manila. Butt was in Cuba in 1908 when Roosevelt brought him back to the capital to be his military aide.

On paper, Butt was responsible for handling the social calendar of the president, but he was also a close confidant of both presidents. Speaking at Butt’s memorial service, Taft said “the duty of an aide to a president is very hard to fill. It calls for great self-sacrifice. … The aide has to do the best he can to contribute to the president’s peace of mind, and that is a burden … that no one knows the weight of unless he has been an aide.”

The strain was taking its toll by 1912. Butt was suffering from exhaustion, not just from his duties, but also from the growing divide between his two friends. Taft was Roosevelt’s hand-picked Republican successor, but four years later Taft
was calling his mentor a “dangerous egotist” and Roosevelt dismissed Taft as a “fathead.”

Butt’s last letters show he was reluctant to leave Taft at such a critical juncture: “I lay awake a long time last night, trying to make up my mind as to what my duty was in regard to this trip to Italy. … It seems to me that the President will need every intime near at hand now.”

Butt canceled his plans four days before his departure, but rescheduled his journey at Taft’s insistence. On March 3, he left Hoboken, N.J., for Naples, Italy. By his side was Frank Millet, the American painter and Butt’s roommate.

Butt delivered his message to Pope Pius X, though how he spent the rest of his tour in Europe is largely unrecorded. He mailed a postcard from Gibraltar on March 11 to fellow Masons, sending “best wishes to those whose friendship is firmer than this rock.”

At some point Millet and Butt split ways, then reunited April 10 aboard the Titanic. They had separate quarters; Butt needed room for seven trunks of clothes and holiday purchases.

Aboard the ship

First-class passengers such as Butt and Millet had plenty of entertainment options aboard the Titanic. At 882 feet long, the Titanic was a little longer than the distance between 9th and 10th streets in downtown Augusta and the height of the Lamar building. Butt had four dining rooms to choose from, along with a saltwater pool (admittance was one shilling), a Turkish bath, a gym and libraries.

For companionship, Butt could turn to the first-class passenger list slipped under his door and find his name beside the Astors, British fashion designer Lady Duff Gordon, American businessman Benjamin Guggenheim and silent film star Dorothy Gibson, to name a few.

The evening of April 14 was spent in typical fashion. Survivor Col. Archibald Gracie recalled that after dinner they retired to the palm room to sip coffee and listen to the “delightful” music of the Titanic’s band. From the palm room they drifted over to the smoking room, where Gracie discussed politics with Butt and Millet.

Butt, Millet and various scions of American industry were still smoking, playing bridge and swapping stories when Gracie slipped away for an early bed time. They were still there just before midnight when the Titanic struck an iceberg on its starboard side traveling at full steam – roughly 24 mph. Capt. Edward Smith had received warnings about the icebergs collecting in the North Atlantic but said he could not “imagine any condition which would cause a ship to founder. Modern shipbuilding has gone beyond that.”

‘Calm courage’

The crash tore deep gashes under the Titanic’s waterline, eventually flooding the ship’s waterproof containers. At the official British inquiry into the disaster, it was found that the Titanic carried 16 lifeboats and 4 collapsible rafts, enough for 1,178 people to escape; 1,355 passengers were aboard the Titanic, plus a crew of 853, for more than 2,200 people on the ship. The captain declined to hold a lifeboat drill on Sunday to allow people to go to church.

In the midst of the confusion, it’s said that Butt escorted Marie Young, whom he knew as the music governess to the Roosevelt children, to one of the lifeboats. He tucked blankets around her “as carefully as if we were starting on a motor ride,” she said, then told her:
“Goodbye, Miss Young, luck is with you. Will you kindly remember me to all the folks back home?” Then he stepped back, raised his hat and returned to the smoking room.

Gracie said his last image of Butt was in the smoking room, sitting with Clarence Moore, Millet, and a fourth man. They were calmly ignoring the panic around them.

“It occurred to me at the time that these men desired to show their entire indifference to the danger and that if I advised them as to how seriously I regarded it, they would laugh at me,” Gracie wrote in his memoirs.

At his memorial service, Cumming said had Butt been born 25 years earlier, he would have shown the same calm in the Civil War battles of Antietam or Chickamauga.

Butt was “the personification of calm courage and knightly gallantry.”

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George Behe
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George Behe 04/14/12 - 08:18 pm
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Mr. Martin, you've written a

Mr. Martin, you've written a fine article about Archie! The only supplementary information I might offer is that Archie's activities in Europe in 1912, his activities on board the Titanic and the manner in which he met his death on that vessel have been documented by my research in the William Howard Taft papers and many other primary sources. This information (as well as details about the rest of Archie's life) is detailed in my three-volume biography, "Archie: The Life of Major Archibald Butt from Georgia to the Titanic" (available from Lulu.com.)

dkeithg
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dkeithg 04/15/12 - 09:34 am
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Why not tell the truth about

Why not tell the truth about this courageous man? Admiral Butt was a gay man. His 'roommate' was his lover and companion and there is a statue in Washington DC erected by their friends to honor the memory of the two lovers who died on the Titanic, Admiral Butt and Frank Millet. Read "Titanic Lives" by Richard Davenport-Hines to read more of this important, little known story. You can read his online article about Butt and Millet here:

http://www.thedaily.com/page/2012/03/20/032012-opinions-history-butt-dav...

George Behe
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George Behe 04/15/12 - 11:01 am
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I'm afraid Mr.

I'm afraid Mr. Davenport-Hines has resorted to mere stereotypes in his attempt to add Archie to the list of gay Americans of the past. Modern-day gay revisionists are unaware of the fact that two straight men were living in Archie's home at the same time that gay artist Frank Millet lived there, and they likewise overlook the two women that Archie loved during his lifetime and whom he gladly would have married if circumstances hadn't gone against him. The recording of legitimate history requires more rigorous standards than merely relying on lame stereotypes, but if anyone here can provide actual historical EVIDENCE that Archie was gay, I would love to see it.

Fiat_Lux
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Fiat_Lux 04/15/12 - 04:34 pm
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Archibald Butts was a

Archibald Butts was a gentleman and a hero. Even if someone alive today had irrefutable evidence of his private morality, no one's best interests are served by such speculation as dkheithg is tossing about, especially secondhand speculation. Such worthless allegations are completely out of place and have as their only point the furtherance of an agenda that is completely irrelevant regarding Archibald Butts.

dkeithg
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dkeithg 04/15/12 - 06:47 pm
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The simple fact that you

The simple fact that you refer to this loving relationship as 'allegations' confirms where Fiat_Lux stands on gays. Using terminology that indicates criminal or suspicious activity explains all I need to know about where you're coming from.

As for historians, it is always the claim that you can't prove someone is gay unless you can find a statement saying as much (as if anyone would have left such a statement in 1912, or for that matter, in 2012). And yet these same historians draw conclusions all the time, conclusions built on innuendo, interpretations of documents, family third hand knowledge, etc. Indeed, the whole story being reported in the Chronicle today might not satisfy a serious historian as totally factual. Who is to know what Butt actually did on April 15 on the Titanic?

These things we do know: he lived with one man, and Millet is acknowledged as having preferred men (by the way, Mr. Behe, Millet was married and yet those he associated with knew his desires were not for his wife), Butt was considered a 'dandy' (the term from another time often used for men such as Oscar Wilde and and Lord Byron), he was known for his ability to throw a party, Millet and Butt shared a stateroom on the long trip to Europe, and when Millet and Butt died, those who knew them best erected a monument one can still visit in Washington, a memorial to two men, and that fact alone speaks volumes. Not two different memorials, but one for two men.

George Behe
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George Behe 04/15/12 - 08:26 pm
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Hi, Dkeithg. I would like to

Hi, Dkeithg.

I would like to comment on several things you wrote.

>Indeed, the whole story being reported in the Chronicle today might >not satisfy a serious historian as totally factual.

That is absolutely true. I agree 100%.

> Who is to know what Butt actually did on April 15 on the Titanic?

We will of course never know everything that Archie did during the Titanic's maiden voyage. However, during my forty years of research on the disaster I have gathered all known tidbits about Archie that were recorded by survivors after the sinking, and I have presented all of that informaton about his activities in my biography of the man. (I have even found a probable eyewitness to Archie's actual death on the overturned lifeboat Collapsible B.)

>These things we do know: he lived with one man,

Archie actually lived with two other men in addition to Millet; both of those two other men were heterosexual.

>Millet was married and yet those he associated with knew his >desires were not for his wife),

A more accurate statement would be that Millet had desires IN ADDITION to his wife. If you read the loving things that Millet wrote about Lily in his letters, it's obvious that his love for his wife was very real even if he did feel an occasional urge to express his sexual desires in non-heterosexual ways.

> Butt was considered a 'dandy'

Quite true, but this stereotype not an exclusively gay trait by any stretch of the imagination.

>he was known for his ability to throw a party,

True, but this stereotype has absolutely nothing to do with defining one's sexual orientation.

>Millet and Butt shared a stateroom on the long trip to Europe,

I am a heterosexual man who once shared a hotel room with a gay male friend simply as a way of saving money at a convention. Nothing happened in that room, and I would readily share a room with my friend again if circumstances called for it. Archie and Millet were definitely not rich, and they could easily have had the same arrangement on board the Berlin.

>and when Millet and Butt died, those who knew them best erected a >monument one can still visit in Washington, a memorial to two men, >and that fact alone speaks volumes.

They might speak volumes, but they aren't the same volumes that revisionists think they are. On April 20, 1912 presidential secretary Charles Hilles wrote a letter regarding subscriptions for the proposed memorial fountain: "It has been suggested, and this suggestion has the approval of the President, that an enduring memorial be erected on public grounds in Washington to the memory of Major Archibald W. Butt and Mr. Frank D. Millet. It is believed that they were the only officers of the United States who went down with the Titanic. Together they gave up their lives that others might live, and it seems fitting that a memorial be erected to them jointly." In other words, the joint memorial had everything to do with Archie's and Millet's government service and nothing to do with their sexuality.

At this late date nobody can state with 100% certainty what Archie's true sexuality might have been, but it CAN be said that - at the present time - no historical documentation exists to back up the claim that he was a homosexual.

crkgrdn
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crkgrdn 04/15/12 - 09:46 pm
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I drove over the Butt

I drove over the Butt Memorial Bridge this afternoon: disgusting! We can cut the grass on the medians for the masters, but, oh, how the heritage is abused and dishonored. Augusta has a great history but how it is neglected.

Fiat_Lux
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Fiat_Lux 04/15/12 - 11:10 pm
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And par for the agenda,

And par for the agenda, dkeithg, you latch onto the wrong thing and wring the life out of it while completely missing my point. Your allegations (ie, that which you are alleging to be true) arise from speculation based purely on his friends or associates and are only put out for general consumption so that you can make a case for the gay lifestyle, which, yes, I do consider immoral. And--pay attention because this is the point you missed--what I believe about the gay lifestyle and what you think about it in regards to Archibald Butt are, as I said quite pointedly earlier today, completely irrelevant. And, I hastened to add, they are totally self-serving. I doubt he would thank you and I am confident his remaining family do not.

dkeithg
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dkeithg 04/16/12 - 08:16 am
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I guess my only remaining

I guess my only remaining question is this one: where is the proof he was straight? Surely it doesn't rest on a few words or a handful of women he may have entertained?

dkeithg
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dkeithg 04/16/12 - 12:06 pm
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Great responses, Mr. Behe.

Great responses, Mr. Behe. Truly there is no documentation to affirm whether Butt preferred men (whether gay or not), nor is there similar documentation about preferring women (whether straight or not). I've known enough about the human condition to read between the lines and what everything points to for me is that Butt was a dandy in the same way that many other men of his lifetime were -- they preferred the company of men, though women were always present and not just for appearances. I just hope the day will come when those who insist Butt wasn't gay will not be doing so because they find the notion sickening. I take your own comments to be more about seeking historical accuracy and this I can appreciate, and do.

Bouganvillea
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Bouganvillea 04/16/12 - 12:08 pm
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I have seen the memorial
Unpublished

I have seen the memorial erected to them both in Washington, DC. I thought it rather odd at the time and wondered about if they were gay lovers. The more I read on Butt, the more likely that it appeared that this was indeed true. But back then the term "gay" for homosexual did not exist... they were often referred to as "dandies", "Fops" or "Life-long bachelors" and so forth. Doesnt take away anything from him being a hero. I actually think it adds an interesting layer to the whole story and makes him even more noteworthy. Oh, by the way, for all you Jack Daniels drinkers out there.. there's pretty good evidence that Jack Daniel was homosexual. Read a biography on him; fascinating.

Bouganvillea
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Bouganvillea 04/16/12 - 12:11 pm
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I have a gay friend who calls
Unpublished

I have a gay friend who calls it "gaydar".. reading between the lines and picking up on the subtleties or not so subtleties. I'm thinking Butt would have made the gaydar meters spike

Fiat_Lux
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Fiat_Lux 04/19/12 - 10:08 am
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It should give us all pause

It should give us all pause that someone would blithely turn a discussion about the heroism of a native son from a century ago into speculation about his sexuality-- and then relentlessly push it. I can't even imagine the need for affirmation that produces such a bizarre, irrelevant direction for conjecture.

Bouganvillea
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Bouganvillea 04/19/12 - 02:13 pm
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actually it is not clear that
Unpublished

actually it is not clear that Butt acted as a "hero". Some accounts say that he acted as a ship officer and kept steerage passengers locked in below deck.. ensuring their deaths. Steerage passengers were not allowed on upper class decks.. but that is the only place one could access the the life boats. Of the 1500 plus passengers who perished.. the vast majority were poor steerage passengers.

zsaxt642
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zsaxt642 04/20/12 - 01:11 pm
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I would love to know if

I would love to know if Archibald is related to the Butt family that started the H-E-B store chain(mercantile) in Texas(San Antonio) in the early 1900's. And specifically Howard E. Butt. This would be a fascinating historical read and possibly book.I have yet to make the tie.

http://www.fundinguniverse.com/company-histories/HE-Butt-Grocery-company...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/H-E-B

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