April 09, 1912

Major Archibald Butt, Military Aide to Roosevelt and Taft, Writes the Day Before Boarding the Titanic

Autograph Letter Signed
2 pages
SMC 305
At the end of a trip to Europe to restore his health – and perhaps to help him decide with which of his presidents, Roosevelt or Taft, he would stand in 1912 - Major Butt writes a travel agent about a railway ticket refund: send it, he says, care of the White House. That was on April 9th; the next day, the popular bachelor boarded his ship home. He met the RMS Titanic at Southampton on the 10th and then, days later, in the early morning hours of the 15th, died with 1,516 other passengers when it hit an iceberg and sank.  What he did in the two hours and forty minutes between the collision and sinking, however, is the stuff of myth and legend.  Some have “nature’s nobleman,” as Admiral Dewey called him, calmly controlling with perfect courtesy the frenzied women, and placing them in safety; others have him with an iron bar in hand, standing guard at the Third Class passage, defending the women and children from the maddened men in steerage. Two facts are known for certain: he was playing cards in the first-class smoking room when the collision occurred (many accounts have him continuing to play until minutes before the ship went down); and he was last seen standing on the sinking deck with John Jacob Astor.
President Taft, who regarded Archie Butt like a son and brother, was devastated; remembering him in a eulogy [see the manuscript dated April 19, 1912] as loyal, gentle, and competent; he was certain that Butt had remained on deck until every duty had been performed, every sacrifice made…
Autograph Letter Signed, 2 pages, recto and verso, 24, Grosvenor Place, S.W., London, April 9, 1912. To an unnamed travel agent.
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