04-15-1912

[l to r] President William Howard Taft with Major Archibald Butt

MAJOR ARCHIBALD WILLINGHAM BUTT died on this date. (b: 1865) Butt was an influential military aide to U.S. Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft. Before becoming an aide to Roosevelt, Butt had pursued a career in journalism and served in the Spanish-American War. He died in the sinking of the RMS Titanic.

He served in the Phillippines from 1900 to 1904. While he was in the Philippines, he had a part in founding the Military Order of the Carabao, a tongue-in-cheek spoof of military fraternal organization that is still in operation today. In 1904, he was made Depot Quartermaster of Washington D.C., where he met President Theodore Roosevelt. In 1906, he was sent to Cuba as part of a pacification force. In 1908, now a captain, Butt was recalled to Washington to serve as chief military aide to President Roosevelt. When William Howard Taft became President the following year, Butt stayed on in the same capacity. In 1911, Butt was promoted to the rank of major.

In the early spring of 1912, Butt’s health took a turn for the worse; urged to rest by President Taft, he left on a six-week vacation to Europe. He was accompanied for part of his vacation by the American painter Frances David Millet, his longtime domestic partner. Butt’s only known official work during his vacation was a visit with Pope Piuz X, during which he delivered to the pontiff a personal message from Taft. Butt booked passage on the RMS Titanic for his return to the U.S. He boarded the Titanic at Southhampton, UK on April 10, 1912; his partner Millet boarded the ship at Cherbourg, France later that same day. Butt was playing cards on the night of April 14 in the first-class smoking room when the Titanic struck an iceberg. The ship was completely submerged by 2:20 AM the next morning, and plunged to the ocean floor.

Major Butt’s actions on board the ship while it was sinking are largely unverified, but many accounts of a typically sensationalist nature were published by newspapers after the disaster. According to some accounts, Titanic captain Edward J. Smith informed Butt that the “ship was doomed” and that “lifeboats were being readied.” Butt immediately began acting as another officer of the ship, herding women and children into the lifeboats. One account tells of Butt preventing desperate steerage passengers trying to escape. Walter Lord’s book A Night To Remember disagrees with claims that Butt acted like an officer, claiming he was more likely quietly observing the ship’s evacuation. Butt was last seen in the smoking room, making no attempt to save himself. He went down with the Titanic; his remains were not found.

Butt lived with his longtime domestic partner, Frank Millet, in an old-fashioned district of Washington, D.C. “Millet, my artist friend who lives with me” was Butt’s designation for his companion. In D.C. they were known for throwing large parties that were attended by members of congress, justices of the Supreme Court and President Taft, himself. As a result of a society not wanting to pry into their lives, insiders in Washington tried not to focus too closely on the men’s relationship, but they recognized their mutual affection. The two were aboard the Titanic when it sank on the early morning of April 15, 1912. Butt’s body was not recovered. But Millet’s was found later floating on the sea and was returned to the U.S. for burial. The memorial fountain erected in the Ellipse area of the President’s Park in Washington is called the Butt-Millet Fountain.