Of the several versions of this history I have read while
researching this page, this appears to be the most creditable.
The three rifle volleys fired at a military funeral is often confused with a 21-gun salute.
Go to sleep, peaceful sleep,
May the soldier or sailor,
On the land or the deep,
Safe in sleep.
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
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.
Day is done, gone the sun,
From the hills, from the lake,
From the sky.
All is well, safely rest,
God is nigh.
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.
Taps began as a revision to the signal for Extinguish Lights
(Lights Out) at the end of the day. Up until the Civil War, the
infantry call for Extinguish Lights was the one set down in Silas
Casey's (1801-1882) Tactics, which had been borrowed from the
French. The music for Taps was adapted by Union General Daniel
Butterfield for his brigade (Third Brigade, First Division,
Fifth Army Corps, Army of the Potomac) in July, 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 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
83rd 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 Extinguish Lights feeling that the call was too formal
to signal the days end and with the help of the brigade bugler,
Oliver Willcox Norton, 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.
The highly romantic account of how Butterfield composed the
call surfaced in 1898 following a magazine article written that
summer. The August, 1898 issue of Century Magazine contained an
article called The Trumpet in Camp and Battle, by Gustav Kobbe,
a music historian and critic. He was writing about the origin
of bugle calls in the Civil War and in reference to Taps, wrote:
In speaking of our trumpet calls I purposely omitted one with
which it seemed most appropriate to close this article, for it
is the call which closes the soldier's day. . . . Lights Out.
I have not been able to trace this call to any other service.
If it seems probable, it was original with Major Seymour, he has
given our army the most beautiful of all trumpet-calls.
Kobbe was using as an authority the Army drill manual on infantry
tactics prepared by Major General Emory Upton in 1867 (revised
in 1874). The bugle calls in the manual were compiled by Major
(later General) Truman Seymour of the 5th U.S. Artillery. Taps
was called Extinguish Lights in these manuals since it was to
replace the Lights Out call disliked by Butterfield. The title
of the call was not changed until later, although other manuals
started calling it Taps because most soldiers knew it by that
name. Since Seymour was responsible for the music in the Army
manual, Kobbe assumed that he had written the call. Kobbe s inability
to find the origin of Extinguish Lights (Taps) prompted a letter
from Oliver W. Norton in Chicago who claimed he knew how the call
came about and that he was the first to perform it.
Chicago, August 8, 1898
I was much interested in reading the article by Mr. Gustav
Kobbe, on the Trumpet and Bugle Calls, in the August Century.
Mr. Kobbe says that he has been unable to trace the origin of
the call now used for Taps, or the Go to sleep , as it is generally
called by the soldiers. As I am unable to give the origin of this
call, I think the following statement may be of interest to Mr.
Kobbe and your readers.. .. During the early part of the Civil
War I was bugler at the Headquarters of Butterfield s Brigade,
Morell s Division, Fitz-John Porter s Corp, Army of the Potomac.
Up to July, 1862, the Infantry call for Taps was that set down
in Casey s Tactics, which Mr. Kobbe says was borrowed from the
French. One day, soon after the seven days battles on the Peninsular,
when the Army of the Potomac was lying in camp at Harrison's Landing,
General Daniel Butterfield, then commanding our Brigade, sent
for me, and 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. I think no general order was issued
from army headquarters authorizing the substitution of this for
the regulation call, but as each brigade commander exercised his
own discretion in such minor matters, the call was gradually taken
up through the Army of the Potomac. I have been told that it was
carried to the Western Armies by the 11th and 12th Corps, when
they went to Chattanooga in the fall of 1863, and rapidly made
it s way through those armies. I did not presume to question General
Butterfield at the time, but from the manner in which the call
was given to me, I have no doubt he composed it in his tent at
Harrison s Landing. I think General Butterfield is living at Cold
Spring, New York. If you think the matter of sufficient interest,
and care to write him on the subject, I have no doubt he will
confirm my statement. -Oliver W. Norton
The editor did write to Butterfield as suggested by Norton.
In answer to the inquiry from the editor of the Century, General
Butterfield writing from Gragside, Cold Spring, under the date
of August 31, 1898 wrote:
I recall, in my dim memory, the substantial truth of the statement
made by Norton, of the 83rd Pa., about bugle calls. His letter
gives the impression that I personally wrote the notes for the
call. The facts are, that at the time I could sound calls on the
bugle as a necessary part of military knowledge and instruction
for an officer commanding a regiment or brigade. I had acquired
this as a regimental commander. I had composed a call for my brigade,
to precede any calls, indicating that such were calls, or orders,
for my brigade alone. This was of very great use and effect on
the march and in battle. It enabled me to cause my whole command,
at times, in march, covering over a mile on the road, all to halt
instantly, and lie down, and all arise and start at the same moment;
to forward in line of battle, simultaneously, in action and charge
etc. It saves fatigue. The men rather liked their call, and began
to sing my name to it. It was three notes and a catch. I can not
write a note of music, but have gotten my wife to write it from
my whistling it to her, and enclose it. The men would sing , Dan,
Dan, Dan, Butterfield, Butterfield to the notes when a call came.
Later, in battle, or in some trying circumstances or an advance
of difficulties, they sometimes sang, Damn, Damn, Damn, Butterfield,
The call of Taps did not seem to be as smooth, melodious and
musical as it should be, and I called in some one who could write
music, and practiced a change in the call of Taps until I had
it suit my ear, and then, as Norton writes, got it to my taste
without being able to write music or knowing the technical name
of any note, but, simply by ear, arranged it as Norton describes.
I did not recall him in connection with it, but his story is substantially
correct. Will you do me the favor to send Norton a copy of this
letter by your typewriter? I have none. -Daniel Butterfield
On the surface, this seems to be the true history of the origin
of Taps. Indeed, the many articles written about Taps cite this
story as the beginning of Butterfield's association with the call.
Certainly, Butterfield never went out of his way to claim credit
for its composition and it wasn't until the Century article that
the origin came to light.
There are however, significant differences in Butterfield's
and Norton's stories. Norton says that the music given to him
by Butterfield that night was written down on an envelope while
Butterfield wrote that he could not read or write music! Also
Butterfield's words seem to suggest that he was not composing
a melody in Norton s presence, but actually arranging or revising
an existing one. As a commander of a brigade, he knew of the bugle
calls needed to relay troop commands. All officers of the time
were required to know the calls and were expected to be able to
play the bugle. Butterfield was no different-he could play the
bugle but could not read music. As a colonel of the 12th N.Y.
Regiment, before the war, he had ordered his men to be thoroughly
familiar with calls and drills.
What could account for the variation in stories? My research
shows that Butterfield did not compose Taps but actually revised
an earlier bugle call. This sounds blasphemous to many, but the
fact is that Taps existed in an early version of the call Tattoo.
As a signal for end of the day, armies have used Tattoo to signal
troops to prepare them for bedtime roll call. The call was used
to notify the soldiers to cease the evening's drinking and return
to their garrisons. It was sounded an hour before the final call
of the day to extinguish all fires and lights. This early version
is found in three manuals the Winfield Scott (1786 -1866 ) manual
of 1835, the Samuel Cooper (1798-1876) manual of 1836 and the
William Gilham (1819?-1872) manual of 1861. This call referred
to as the Scott Tattoo was in use from 1835-1860. A second version
of Tattoo came into use just before the Civil War and was in use
throughout the war replacing the Scott Tattoo.
The fact that Norton says that Butterfield composed Taps cannot
be questioned. He was relaying the facts as he remembered them.
His conclusion that Butterfield wrote Taps can be explained by
the presence of the second Tattoo. It was most likely that the
second Tattoo, followed by Extinguish Lights (the first eight
measures of today's Tattoo), was sounded by Norton during the
course of the war.
It seems possible that these two calls were sounded to end
the soldier's day on both sides during the war. It must therefore
be evident that Norton did not know the early Tattoo or he would
have immediately recognized it that evening in Butterfield's tent.
If you review the events of that evening, Norton came into Butterfield's
tent and played notes that were already written down on an envelope.
Then Butterfield changed it somewhat, lengthening some notes and
shortening others, but retaining the melody as he first gave it
to me. If you compare that statement while looking at the present
day Taps, you will see that this is exactly what happened to turn
the early (Scott) Tattoo in Taps. Butterfield as stated above,
was a Colonel before the War and in General Order No. 1 issued
by him on December 7, 1859 had the order: The Officers and non-commissioned
Officers are expected to be thoroughly familiar with the first
thirty pages, Vol. 1, Scott's Tactics, and ready to answer any
questions in regard to the same previous to the drill above ordered
Scott's Tactics include the bugle calls that Butterfield must
have known and used.
If Butterfield was using Scott's Tactics for drills, then it
is feasible that he would have used the calls as set in the manual.
Lastly, it is hard to believe that Butterfield could have composed
anything that July in the aftermath of the Seven Days battles
which saw the Union Army of the Potomac mangled by Lee's Army
of Northern Virginia. Over twenty six thousand casualties were
suffered on both sides. Butterfield had lost over 600 of his men
on June 27th at the battle of Gaines Mill and had himself been
wounded. In the midst of the heat, humidity, mud, mosquitoes,
dysentery, typhoid and general wretchedness of camp life in that
early July, it is hard to imagine being able to write anything.
In the interest of historical accuracy, it should be noted
that it is not General Butterfield who composed Taps, rather that
he revised an earlier call into the present day bugle call we
know as Taps. This is not meant to take credit away from him.
It is only to put things in a correct historic manner. Following
the Peninsular Campaign, Butterfield served at 2nd Bull Run, Antietam
and at Marye's Heights in the Battle of Fredericksburg. Through
political connections and his ability for administration, he became
a Major General and served as chief of staff of the Union Army
of the Potomac under Generals Joseph Hooker and George Meade.
He was wounded at Gettysburg and then reassigned to the Western
Theater. By war's end, he was breveted a brigadier general and
stayed in the army after the Civil War, serving as superintendent
of the army's recruiting service in New York City and colonel
of the 5th Infantry. In 1870, after resigning from the military,
Butterfield went back to work with the American Express Company.
He was in charge of a number of special public ceremonies, including
General William Tecumseh Sherman's funeral in 1891. Besides his
association with Taps, Butterfield also designed the system of
Corps Badges which were distinctive shapes of color cloth sewn
on to uniforms to distinguish units.
Butterfield died in 1901. His tomb is the most ornate in the
cemetery at West Point despite the fact that he never attended.
There is also a monument to Butterfield in New York City near
Grant's Tomb. There is nothing on either monument that mentions
Taps or Butterfield's association with the call. Taps was sounded
at his funeral.
How did it become associated with funerals? The earliest official
reference to the mandatory use of Taps at military funeral ceremonies
is found in the U.S. Army Infantry Drill Regulations for 1891,
although it had doubtless been used unofficially long before that
time, under its former designation Extinguish Lights.
The first use of Taps at a funeral during the Peninsular Campaign
in Virginia. Captain John C. Tidball of Battery A, 2nd Artillery
ordered it played for the burial of a cannoneer killed in action.
Since the enemy was close, he worried that the traditional 3 volleys
would renew fighting.
During the Peninsular 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 Captain
Tidball that the sounding of Taps would be the most ceremony that
would be substituted. The custom, thus originated, was taken up
throughout the Army of the Potomac, and finally confirmed by orders.
Colonel James A. Moss Officer's Manual Pub. George Banta Publishing
Co. Menasha Wisconsin 1913 Elbridge Coby in Army Talk (Princeton,
1942), p.208 states that it was B Battery of the Third Artillery
that first used Taps at a military funeral.
This first sounding of Taps at a military funeral is commemorated
in a stained glass window at The Chapel of the Centurion (The
Old Post Chapel) at Fort Monroe, Virginia. The window, made by
R. Geissler of New York and based on a painting by Sidney King,
was dedicated in 1958 and shows a bugler and a flag at half staff.
In that picture a drummer boy stands beside the bugler. The grandson
of that drummer boy purchased Berkeley Plantation where Harrisons
Landing is located. The site where Taps was born is also commemorated.
In this case, by a monument located on the grounds of Berkeley
Plantation. This monument to Taps was erected by the Virginia
American Legion and dedicated on July 4, 1969. The site is also
rich in history, for the Harrisons of Berkeley Plantation included
Benjamin Harrison and William Henry Harrison, both presidents
of the United States as well as Benjamin Harrison (father and
Great grandfather of future presidents), a signer of the Declaration
It must be pointed out that other stories of the origin of
Taps exist. A popular one is that of a Northern boy who was killed
fighting for the south. His father, Robert Ellicombe a Captain
in the Union Army, came upon his son's body on the battlefield
and found the notes to Taps in a pocket of the dead boy's Confederate
uniform. When Union General Daniel Sickles heard the story, he
had the notes sounded at the boy's funeral. There is no evidence
to back up the story or the existence of Captain Ellicombe. As
with many other customs, this solemn tradition continues today.
Although Butterfield merely revised an earlier bugle call, his
role in producing those 24 notes gives him a place in the history
of music as well as the history of war.
As soon as Taps was sounded that night in July 1862, words
were put with the music. The first were, "Go To Sleep, Go
to Sleep." As the years went on many more versions were created.
There are no official words to the music but those at the top of
this page are some of the more popular verses.
Play The Music!
This medley starts out with one bugle, then two and ending with two
24 Notes That Tap Deep Emotions
Jari A. Villanueva