Monday, August 2, 2010

Tapped for Duty

The haunting melody of "Taps" gives me goose bumps. It is intimately connected with the passing of someone who gave their lives in service to others. Someone who was running in, while the rest of us were running out. There are no "official" words to "Taps". But, there are words to "Taps". Whether they are "official" or not they are fitting tribute to the memory of our fallen heroes.

The urban legend goes that during the Civil War, a Union soldier heard a wounded man moaning out on the battlefield. He then risked his own life, crawling on his stomach through the gunfire, then managed to pull the wounded man back to the Union lines. Only when he lit a lantern did he see that it was his own son and that he was dead.

The next day the grieving father asked his superiors for permission to give his son a full military burial. Once that was granted he asked if he could have an Army band play at the funeral. This request was denied because the funeral was for a Confederate soldier. They did relent enough to allow one musician to play. The father then asked a bugler to play a series of musical notes he had found on a scrap of paper in his dead son's pocket. They say the notes he played are what came to be known as "Taps", too bad it's not true.

In July of 1862, while in camp at Harrison's Landing, Virginia; Brig. Gen. Daniel Butterfield created "Taps." Wanting a less harsh bugle call for signaling the end of the soldier's day, he scribbled some notes on the back of an envelope. Then he worked with his brigade's bugler to transform the melody into what is now known as "Taps."

As the brigade bugler, Private Oliver Willcox Norton. later wrote of that occasion:
General Daniel Butterfield ... showing me some notes on a staff written in pencil on the back of an envelope, asked me to sound them on my bugle. I did this several times, playing the music as written. He changed it somewhat, lengthening some notes and shortening others, but retaining the melody as he first gave it to me. After getting it to his satisfaction, he directed me to sound that call for 'Taps' thereafter in place of the regulation call. The music was beautiful on that still summer night, and was heard far beyond the limits of our brigade. The next day I was visited by several buglers from neighboring brigades, asking for copies of the music, which I gladly furnished.

"Taps" was quickly taken up and soon was being sounded by both Union and Confederate buglers.


Day is done,
Gone the sun,
From the lakes,
From the hills,
From the sky,
All is well,
Safely rest,
God is nigh.

Fading light,
Dims the sight,
And a star,
Gems the sky,
Gleaming bright,
From afar,
Drawing nigh,
Falls the night.

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


  1. Amen.

    During my time in the service, I suffered through recordings of taps played over what I will describe as "MASH" loudspeakers. But, other times, I was treated to the perfect sounds rendered by a live bugler. Irreplacable experiences.

    I like the myth story much better, but sometimes we have to bow to the veracity of true tales, huh?

  2. Yeah, sometimes I just hate going to