Do You Know The History Of Taps ?



Of all the military bugle calls, none is so easily recognized or more apt to render emotion than the call Taps. The melody is both eloquent and haunting and the history of its origin is interesting and somewhat clouded in controversy. In the British Army, a similar call known as Last Post has been sounded over soldiers' graves since 1885, but the use of Taps is unique with the United States military, since the call is sounded at funerals, wreath-laying and memorial services.


Here are two different histories of Taps, you decide which is correct.


Version 1 (probably a myth)

It all began in 1862 during the Civil War, when Union Army Captain Robert Ellicombe was with his men near Harrison's Landing in Virginia. The Confederate Army was on the other side of the narrow strip of land. During the night, Captain Ellicombe heard the moan of a soldier who lay mortally wounded on the field.  Not knowing if it was Union or Confederate soldier, the Captain decided to risk his life and bring the stricken man back for medical attention.  Crawling on his stomach through the gunfire, the Captain reached the stricken soldier and began pulling him toward his encampment.  When the Captain finally reached his own lines, he discovered it was actually a Confederate soldier, but the soldier was dead.  The Captain lit a lantern.  Suddenly, he caught his breath and went numb with shock.  In the dim light, he saw the face of the soldier.  It was his son.  The boy had been studying music in the South when the war broke out. Without telling his father, he had enlisted in the Confederate Army. The following morning, heartbroken, the father asked permission of his superiors to give his son a full military burial despite his enemy status. His request was partially granted.  The Captain had asked if he could have a group of Army band members play a funeral dirge for his son at the funeral.  That request was turned down since the soldier was a Confederate. Out of respect for the father, they did say they could give him one musician.  The Captain chose a bugler.  He asked the bugler to play a series a musical notes he had found on a piece of paper in the pocket of his dead son's uniform. The music was the haunting melody we now know as "TAPS" that is used at all military funerals.


Version 2 (probably the real story)

Up to the Civil War, the infantry call for Lights Out was that set down in Silas Casey's (1801-1882) Tactics, which had been borrowed from the French. The music for Taps was changed by Union General Daniel Butterfield for his Brigade (Third Brigade, First Division, Fifth Army Corps, Army of the Potomac) in July of 1862.

 Daniel Adams Butterfield (31 October 1831-17 July 1901) was born in Utica, New York and graduated from Union College at Schenectady. He was the eastern superintendent of the American Express Company in New York when the Civil War broke out. Despite his lack of military experience, he rose quickly in rank. A Colonel in the 12th Regiment of the New York State Militia, he was promoted to Brigadier General and given command of a brigade of the V Corps of the Army of the Potomac. The 12th served in the Shenandoah Valley during the Bull Run Campaign. During the Peninsular campaign Butterfield served prominently when during the Battle of Gaines Mill, despite an injury, he seized the colors of the 3rd Pennsylvania and rallied the regiment at a critical time in the battle. Years later, he was awarded the Medal of Honor for that act of heroism.

As the story goes, General Butterfield was not pleased with the call for Lights Out, feeling that the call was too formal to signal the days end. With the help of the brigade bugler, Oliver Wilcox Norton, Butterfield wrote Taps to honor his men while in camp at Harrison's Landing, Virginia, following the Seven Day's battle. These battles took place during the Peninsular Campaign of 1862. The call, sounded that night in July, 1862, soon spread to other units of the Union Army and was even used by the Confederates. Taps was made an official bugle call after the war.

 

There are no official words to the music but here are some of the more popular versions:

Go to sleep, peaceful sleep,
May the soldier or sailor,
God keep.
On the land or the deep,
Safe in sleep.

Day is done, gone the sun,
From the hills, from the lake,
From the skies.
All is well, safely rest,
God is nigh.

Love, good night, Must thou go,
When the day, And the night
Need thee so?
All is well. Speedeth all
To their rest.

Fades the light; And afar
Goeth day, And the stars
Shineth bright,
Fare thee well; Day has gone,
Night is on.

Thanks and praise, For our days,
'Neath the sun, Neath the stars,
'Neath the sky,
As we go, This we know,
God is nigh.




Last Updated:  July 4, 2022