As many of my readers may know, I am very interested in the sinking of the Titanic. My love of Georgia history and Titanic lore came together when I found out that there were four Georgians on board the ill-fated luxury liner when it went down. They were Archibald Butt, Mr. and Mrs. Jacques Futrelle, and Isidor Straus.
I have always been fascinated by the story of Archibald Butt, even to the point of writing an article about him for New Georgia Encyclopedia. It can be found at the following link: http://www.newgeorgiaencyclopedia.com/nge/Article.jsp?path=/HistoryArchaeology/TheProgressiveEraandWorldWarI/People-6&id=h-3667.
Major Butt made it so far up the political and military ladder that he became the military aide to Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft. When the two presidents became locked in a heated struggle for the heart and soul of the Republican Party and were going to run against one another for the presidency in 1912Archie was torn as to what to do. In the spring of 1912, President Taft sent Archie to Europe for a much needed vacation. Taft felt that the cruise and sea air would do Archie a world of good. How were they to know that the trip back would be interrupted by perhaps the world's worst maritime disaster? When the ship hit an iceberg and sank to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean on the night of April 15, 1912, Archie would be among those lost. His body was never recovered. Upon hearing that Archie was lost forever, President Taft was devastated, even coming to Augusta in the near future to help memorialize Major Butt.
So was Archie in Europe simply on vacation? Officially, the Taft White House said yes. They said that the only official duty he had while in Europe was as an official emissary to the Pope. He even paid a call on the King of Italy while he was there. However, rumor circulated in the days after the sinking that Archie was carrying official documents on behalf of the Taft administration that made it clear what position the United States would have if war broke out in Europe. World War One did not break out until 1914, but the tension and diplomatic conflicts that would lead to the war had been brewing for quite a while before that. Taft and his administration knew there would be trouble ahead. Rumors ran wild in Washington after Butts died on board the Titanic that he was carrying messages from Taft to the leaders of Europe that the United States would support whichever side was attacked first if war erupted in Europe. Although there was no real proof of that rumor, it persisted and even grew in strength as the years progressed. As a matter of fact, one of Archie Butts descendants teaches at the same college as I do. He reports that the story has persisted in his family for the past few generations as well. He remembers hearing his elders speak of Archie and his mission in Europe when he was a young boy.
So, is there any truth to the rumors. When war broke out, we did in fact side with the attacked. It would not be until 1917 that we officially entered the war, and President Taft was more than five years removed from the presidency. Wilson lead the nation when we finally declared war. But we did support those that were attacked rather than the provoker. So, did Archie really relay critical diplomatic messages to the leaders of Europe? The world may never know, and if there was any offical documentation, it is long gone, as it went to the bottom of the Atlantic on the cold night of April 15, 1912.