"We Must Get Them Into the Boats": Colonel Archibald Gracie IV

Archibald Gracie IV was the All-American sort of American.

He was born in Mobile, Alabama, in January of 1858. At the onset of the American Civil War, his father defied his Unionist family and in 1862, he became a general in the Confederate Army. He was killed while he was looking through a spyglass at Petersburg in 1864, when an artillery shell exploded in front of him.

The young Gracie wasn’t yet 6 years old when his father died, and that same year, was sent to boarding school in New Hampshire. Gracie IV grew up to attend (but not graduate) from West Point and become a colonel in the 7th New York Regiment.

Archibald Gracie IV.


Colonel Gracie ended up on Titanic after a solo trip to Europe to decompress; he had spent 7 years writing a book about the Battle of Chickamauga, which his late father had been in.

Gracie spent his time as one would expect a dapper gentleman of stature to, and we know a great deal about how he occupied himself thanks to his account of the sinking, written shortly after the disaster in 1912.

And did he enjoy himself.

During the first days of the voyage, from Wednesday to Saturday… I had devoted my time to social enjoyment and to the reading of books taken from the ship’s well-supplied library. I enjoyed myself as if I were in a summer place on the sea shore, surrounded with every comfort—there was nothing to indicate or suggest that we were on the stormy Atlantic ocean.

Excerpt from "Titanic: A Survivor's Story," by Archibald Gracie, 1912 (reprinted by Sutton Publishing, 2008.)

During his time on “this floating palace,” Colonel Gracie offered his services to a group of women traveling alone. This was a common practice at the time, to escort unaccompanied ladies to ensure their safety and well-being.

Colonel Gracie also spent a great deal of time with Isidor and Ida Straus, whose story of tragic devotion is easily the most famous of all the couples on board Titanic.

Colonel Gracie and Isidor were both armchair historians, and they made a hobby out of discussing the American Civil War, as they had both been affiliated to the Confederate cause. Gracie lent Isidor a book about Chickamauga—his own book, naturally.

Isidor returned it with gratitude to the Colonel on Sunday, April 14, 1912.

Isidor Straus, taken on February 6, 1906. From the George Grantham Bain Collection, courtesy of the Library of Congress.


Gracie was also an esteemed member of an impromptu and exclusive club called “Our Coterie,” a group of seven writers, including Hugh Woolner and Edward Austin Kent, who met every day. It was essentially Titanic’s Finer Things Club.

On Sunday morning, Colonel Gracie spent a concentrated amount of time exercising, and made a point to take advantage of Titanic’s many athletic facilities, including the gymnasium, the racquetball court, and the heated swimming bath. The latter activity clearly caused him some mental anguish as he thought back on the sinking.

When Sunday morning came, I considered it high time to begin my customary exercises… I was up early before breakfast and met the profession racquet player in a half hour’s warming up, preparatory for a swim in the six-foot deep tank of salt water, heated to a refreshing temperature. In no swiming [sic] bath had I ever enjoyed such pleasure before. How curtailed that enjoyment would have been had the presentiment come to me telling how near it was to being my last plunge, and that before dawn of another day I would be swimming for my life in mid-ocean, under water and on the surface, in a temperature of 28 degrees Fahrenheit!

…Such was my morning preparation for the unforeseen physical exertions I was compelled to put forth for dear life at midnight, a few hours later. Could any better training for the terrible ordeal have been planned?

Excerpt from "Titanic: A Survivor's Story," by Archibald Gracie, 1912 (reprinted by Sutton Publishing, 2008.)

This was hardly Colonel Gracie’s only moment of irony within his written narrative. He also wrote of returning a book to the First-Class library, and remarked, "How little I thought that in the next few hours I should be a witness and a party to a scene to which this book could furnish no counterpart."

Gracie was awoken by the collision with the iceberg. He testified to hearing the ship’s steam sound off. He also felt the engines cease, though it was only “slight.”

All through the voyage the machinery did not manifest itself at all from my position in my stateroom, so perfect was the boat. I looked out of the door of my stateroom, glanced up and down the passageway to see if there was any commotion, and I did not see anybody nor hear anybody moving at all; but I did not like the sound of it, so I thought I would partially dress myself, which I did, and went on deck.

I went on what they call the A deck. Presently some passengers gathered around. We looked over the sides of the ship to see whether there was any indication of what had caused this noise. I soon learned from friends around that an iceberg had struck us.

Presently along came a gentleman… who had ice in his hands. Some of this ice was handed to us with the statement that we had better take this home for souvenirs. Nobody had any fear at that time at all.

Colonel Gracie went about assisting people into boats—including the ladies that he had made his special charges—and was witness to some of Titanic's most noted partings, including those of the John Jacob Astor and his pregnant young wife. Gracie was also one of those who tried to persuade Mrs. Straus to part with Isidor and get into a lifeboat, but she refused.

I had heard them discussing that if they were going to die they would die together. We tried to persuade Mrs. Straus to go alone, without her husband, and she said no. Then we wanted to make an exception of the husband, too, because he was an elderly man, and he said no, he would share his fate with the rest of the men, and that he would not go beyond. So I left them there.

Unsurprisingly, Colonel Gracie did not take to a lifeboat.

He spent most the sinking assisting Second Officer Charles Lightoller in filling lifeboats and providing those passengers with blankets.

Gracie was also vital to the launch of the so-called "collapsible" lifeboats, handing over his penknife to help cut the boats free from the roof of the officers quarters. They successfully loosed Collapsibles A, C, and D.

But as they worked frantically on Collapsible B, the bridge dipped; Gracie and his friend, who he had been with for most of the ordeal, moved toward the stern. Caught in the crowd of passengers, the water rushed up to meet them.

Colonel Gracie jumped with the wave and grabbed for the bottom rung of a ladder, and pulled himself onto the roof.

So the ship went down.

And Gracie with it.

Down, down I went: it seemed a great distance. There was a very noticeable pressure upon my ears…

Just at the moment I thought that for lack of breath I would have to give in, I seemed to have been provided a second wind, and it was just then that the thought that this was my last moment came upon me. I wanted to convey the news of how I died to my loved ones at home. As I swam beneath the surface of the ocean, I prayed that my spirit could go to them and say, ‘Goodbye, until we meet again in heaven.’

Finally I noticed by the increase of light that I was drawing near the surface. Though it was not daylight, the clear star-lit night made a noticeable difference in the degree of light immediately below the surface of the water... Looking about me, I could see no Titanic in sight. She had entirely disappeared...

What impressed me at the time that my eyes beheld the horrible scene was a thin light-gray smoking vapor that hung like pall a few feet about the broad expanse of sea that was covered with a mass of tangled wreckage.

Excerpt from "Titanic: A Survivor's Story," by Archibald Gracie, 1912 (reprinted by Sutton Publishing, 2008.)

Gracie grabbed a hold of a wooden crate and found his way to--of all lifeboats--Collapsible B, which had floated away upside down when Titanic's deck was submerged.

By Gracie's estimates, there were approximately a dozen men on top of the capsized boat when he managed to pull himself aboard, and about a dozen followed him. All in all, Gracie guessed there were about 30 on Collapsible B.

The boat was kept afloat by an air pocket that inevitably diminished as their weight bore down and the night wore on; multiple survivors speak of the water washing over them.

No one could move. And it was this precarious situation, as the lifeboat sank deeper, that caused the survivors on Collapsible B to deny other survivors who swam near.

Colonel Gracie turned his head away, lest he be begged and made to refuse. There are reports of men being beaten away with oars. And a report, supported by Gracie and another survivor, that a man who was told off replied with, "All right, boys; good luck, and God bless you."

With the morning came the swell of the sea, and the air pocket within leaked. Second Officer Lightoller, the ad hoc leader of Collapsible B and the highest-ranked officer to survive, arranged for the men to stand and shift their weights to counteract the swells.

By the time they were rescued, the water was up to their knees, and multiple men had died.

The recovery of Collapsible B by the crew of the Mackay-Bennett.


Colonel Gracie had to drag himself into Lifeboat 12 when they pulled up alongside Collapsible B. Per his account, there was a dead man in the boat, whose identity has never been determined. Gracie said that he tried desperately to revive him, but it was in vain.

On board Carpathia under a pile of blankets, Colonel Gracie found his body and legs had been cut; he had, it turned out, also sustained a wound to his head.

He was graciously nursed by other survivors, including Frederic and Daisy Spedden, as well as their son’s nursemaid Elizabeth Burns, who provided him with warm drinks. He made a point of thanking them in his manuscript.

Colonel Gracie testified in the resulting Senate Inquiry and set immediately to write a book about the sinking. It is, as you have seen, extraordinarily detailed. He spent a considerable amount of time performing research, curating peer survivor accounts, and determining who was in each lifeboat.

But however bombastic he seems in his writing, the truth is that Colonel Gracie’s vitality, if not his life, was lost to Titanic. He was a diabetic, and the hypothermia he suffered took a severe toll on his health.

At only 54 years old, Colonel Archibald Gracie died on December 4, 1912.

…The members of his family and his physicians felt that the real cause was the shock he suffered last April when he went down with the ship and was rescued later after long hours on a half-submerged raft. The events of the night of the wreck were constantly on his mind. The manuscript of his work on the subject had finally been completed and sent to the printers when his last illness came. In his last hours the memories of the disaster did not leave him. Rather they crowded thicker

His final request was that he be interred in the same clothes he had worn when Titanic sank.

Colonel Gracie's funeral was widely reported. Multiple Titanic survivors were in mournful attendance, including Jack Thayer, a seventeen-year-old who had also survived the night on the back of Collapsible B.

Col. Archibald Gracie's final wish that he be buried in the clothes he wore
when rescued from the sinking Titanic was carried out when he was laid to
rest in Woodlawn cemetery, New York city [sic], yesterday.

The obsequies were held in Calvary church and among those present to pay the
last tribute were many of his fellow survivors from the doomed liner,
including Mrs. John Jacob Astor, Mrs. Edward W. Appleton, Mrs. J. B. Thayer,
and her son, J. B. Thayer, and Mrs. J. J. Brown.

Colonel Gracie’s last words were, “We must get them into the boats. We must get them all into the boats.”


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