- This article is about the musical piece. For other uses, see Taps (disambiguation).
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"Taps" is a famous musical piece, sounded by the U.S. military nightly to indicate that it is "lights out", and also during flag ceremonies and funerals, generally on bugle or trumpet. The tune is also sometimes known as "Butterfield's Lullaby", or by the lyrics of its second verse, "Day is Done".
The tune is actually a variation of an earlier bugle call known as the Scott Tattoo which was used in the U.S. from 1835 until 1860., and was arranged in its present form by the Union Army Brigadier General Daniel Butterfield, an American Civil War general who commanded the 3rd Brigade of the 1st Division in the V Army Corps of the Army of the Potomac while at Harrison's Landing, Virginia, in July 1862 to replace a previous French bugle call used to signal "lights out." Butterfield's bugler, Oliver W. Norton, of Erie, Pennsylvania, was the first to sound the new call. Within months, Taps was used by both Union and Confederate forces.
Taps concludes many military funerals conducted with honors at Arlington National Cemetery, as well as hundreds of others around the United States. The tune is also sounded at many memorial services in Arlington's Memorial Amphitheater and at gravesites throughout the cemetery.
Taps is sounded during each of the 2,500 military wreath ceremonies conducted at the Tomb of the Unknowns every year, including the ones held on Memorial Day. The ceremonies are viewed by many people, including veterans, school groups, and foreign officials. Taps is also sounded nightly in military installations at non-deployed locations to indicate that it is "lights out." When Taps is sounded at a funeral, it is customary for serving members of the military or veterans to salute. The corresponding gesture for civilians is to place the right hand over the heart.
Lyrics[edit | edit source]
The original version was purely instrumental, but there have been several later lyrics added. The first, written by Horace Lorenzo Trim, is shown below:
Fading light dims the sight
And a star gems the sky, gleaming bright
From afar drawing nigh,
Falls the night.
Day is done, gone the sun
From the lakes, from the hills, from the skies
All is well, safely rest;
God is nigh.
Then goodnight, peaceful night;
Till the light of the dawn shineth bright.
God is near, do not fear,
The other popular version, penned and harmonized by famed composer Josef Pasternack, is:
Love, sweet dreams!
Lo, the beams of the light Fairy moon kissed the streams,
Ah so soon!
Another set of lyrics, used in a recording made by John Wayne about the song, is:
Trumpet call, as the sun, sinks in fright
Sleep in peace, comrades dear,
God is near.
Music[edit | edit source]
The melody of Taps is composed entirely from the written notes of the C major triad (i.e. C, E, and G). This makes it appropriate for sounding on the bugle , which plays only the notes of the harmonic series, or the C Major diatonic harmonica, since one only needs to play blow notes.
The dual connection of Taps with death and with extinguishing lights is reinforced by the modern expression, "lights out," often used as a slang expression for actual death, or more often for symbolic "death," such as a sports team's loss in a game or tournament.
Legends[edit | edit source]
There are several urban legends concerning the origin of Taps. The most widely circulated one states that a Union Army infantry officer, whose name is often given as Captain Robert Ellicombe, first ordered the Taps performed at the funeral of his son, a Confederate soldier killed during the Peninsula Campaign. This apocryphal story claims that Ellicombe found the tune in the pocket of his son's clothing and performed it to honor his memory. But there is no record of any man named Robert Ellicombe holding a commission as captain in the Army of the Potomac during the Peninsula Campaign.
That Daniel Butterfield composed Taps has been sworn to by numerous reputable witnesses including Oliver Norton, the bugler who first performed the tune. While scholars continue to debate whether or not the tune was original or based on an earlier melody, few researchers doubt that Butterfield is responsible for the current tune.
Another, perhaps more historically verifiable, account of Taps first being used in the context of a military funeral involves John C. Tidball, a Union artillery captain who during a break in fighting ordered the tune sounded for a deceased soldier in lieu of the more traditional–and much less discreet–three volley tribute. Army Col. James A. Moss, in an Officer's Manual initially published in 1911, reports the following:
"During the Peninsula Campaign in 1862, a soldier of Tidball's Battery A of the 2nd Artillery was buried at a time when the battery occupied an advanced position concealed in the woods. It was unsafe to fire the customary three volleys over the grave, on account of the proximity of the enemy, and it occurred to Capt. Tidball that the sounding of Taps would be the most appropriate ceremony that could be substituted."
While not necessarily addressing the origin of the Taps, this does represent a milestone as the first recorded instance of Taps being played as part of a military funeral. Until then, while the tune had meant that the soldiers' day of work was finished, it had little to none of the connotation or overtone of death with which it is so often associated today.
See also[edit | edit source]
The Commonwealth equivalent is "Last Post". The Dutch equivalent is "Taptoe", of which the Last Post was derived in the 17th century. The Norwegian equivalent is the "Bønn" (Prayer). In Germany and Austria "Ich hatt' einen Kameraden" ("I had a comrade") is played at every military funeral.
References[edit | edit source]
- Booth, Russell H., Butterfield and "Taps". Civil War Times, December 1977, pp. 35-39.
- Scott Tattoo
- Detailed History of Taps
- footnote http://www.cem.va.gov/mhg.asp
- The Story of 'Taps' - Netlore Archive
- The Origin of "Taps"? - BreakTheChain.org
- The story behind the military song "taps"-Fiction!
[edit | edit source]
- History of Taps
- Public domain article about Taps
- The Progression of Taps
- Image of Taps sheet music
- Taps in MP3 format