The History of Taps

Prior to the Civil War, the infantry used many different “bugle calls,” which are melodies played on a bugle to communicate with often-distant troops.  These calls included the wake-up call (“reveille”), meal call (“mess”), fall-in, charge, and call to extinguish lights (“lights out”).  Since the earliest days, the bugle call for lights out, no matter what melody was used, has been called “Taps.”

At the beginning of the Civil War, the Union Infantry’s call to extinguish lights was the bugle-call melody from Silas Casey’s book called “Tactics.”  In July 1862, General Daniel Butterfield ordered his troops to use a different call for lights out.  The following history was provided by the bugler in the general’s army brigade, Private Oliver Wilcox Norton, in a letter dated August 8, 1898:

During the early part of the Civil War, I was bugler at the Headquarters of Butterfield’s Brigade, Meroll’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 . . . was borrowed from the French.  One day, soon after the seven day 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.

In a letter dated August 31, 1898, General Butterfield confirmed the essence of the bugler’s story.  Subsequent research has traced the origin of the original notes to a call known as “Scott’s Tattoo,” which had been used to signal troops to prepare their bedrolls one hour before lights out.  General Butterfield altered a few notes and the tempo, but he kept the basic melody the same.

Beginning in July 1862, the twenty-four-note melody used as a call for lights out spread through the Union Army.  However, the first time it was played for the burial of a soldier was during the Peninsular Campaign, later that year.  A Union cannoneer had been killed in action, and his burial was being prepared.  Military protocol at the time required that the Union soldier be honored with a traditional three-volley salute.  However, the Union soldiers were concealed in the woods and the Confederate Army was close.  The officer in charge, Captain John C. Tidball of Battery A, Second Artillery, feared that the traditional round of volleys would arouse the enemy.  Therefore, Captain Tidball ordered instead that “Taps” be substituted for the gunfire.  The 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.  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.

Source:  Silverman, Jerry.  Of Thee I Sing: Music and Lyrics for America’s Most Patriotic Songs.  Citadel Press, Kensington Publishing Corp., New York, NY 2002 Pgs. 239-240

Footnote from Rick the webmaster - For a few years I removed the above information, because I got tired of people telling me it was wrong. I try extremely hard to have factual information on this website. For some reason people like to claim they know what they do not. So now I am including the source for this information. Should you disagree with this being the origination of TAPS, contact the above publisher and give them your FACTS as to why they are wrong.

 


DEDICATED TO THOSE WHO LOST THEIR LIFE FOR THEIR COUNTRY
MAJOR EDMUND C. KNIGHT
SECOND LIEUTENANT CHARLES D. SHUFELT
SERGEANT JAMES P. CASSIDY
SERGEANT CARL FYRBECK
SERGEANT JAMES KAZMER, JR.
SERGEANT GEORGE F. MILLETT
TECHNICIAN GRADE 5 EDWARD J. BARSOM
TECHNICIAN GRADE 5 HENRY 0. DUDLEY
TECHNICIAN GRADE 5 RICHARD M. HALEY
TECHNICIAN GRADE 5 JOSEPH MARTINKOS
TECHNICIAN GRADE 5 THOMAS W. OTIS
CORPORAL MICHAEL ABRAHAM
CORPORAL LEONEL J. ALLIE
CORPORAL HENRY N. KOPF
TECHNICIAN GRADE 4 FRANCIS D. CHENETTE
PRIVATE FIRST CLASS ALBERT G. BLYTHE
PRIVATE FIRST CLASS MICHAEL E. BRYANT
PRIVATE FIRST CLASS ALFRED DUPREE
PRIVATE FIRST CLASS PAUL A. HORNER
PRIVATE FIRST CLASS BASIL KERNYCHNY
PRIVATE FIRST CLASS FREDERICK W. KROPP
PRIVATE FIRST CLASS ALPHONSE B. MIKALONIS
PRIVATE FIRST CLASS EUGENE F. RINTALA
PRIVATE JOSEPH L. R. CADORETTE
PRIVATE GEORGE D. CORMIER
PRIVATE HENRY A. ELMER
PRIVATE CLYDE FERGUSON
PRIVATE WILLIAM H. HARRISON
PRIVATE LUTHER C. HURST
PRIVATE ROLFE V. LINDQUIST
PRIVATE JAMES E. MC INTYRE
PRIVATE NORMAN E. MINER
PRIVATE THOMAS J. MULLINS
PRIVATE ABDALLAH MONSOUR
PRIVATE HAROLD B. SEAVER
PRIVATE CARL Z. URBAN
FISKE, JOHN (he was transferred from The 150th.)

If someone's name from the 150th was left out, please let me know so I can add it to the list.

Below is where members of the 150th were buried overseas.

HAMM MILITARY CEMETERY
LUXEMBOURG

150TH ENGR. MEMBERS PLOT ROW GRAVE
MARTINKOS, JOSEPH G 12 4
MILLETT, GEORGE H 15 20
HORNER, PAUL E 10 31
FISKE, JOHN (he was transferred from the 150th.) 101ST INF. YD DIVISION

LORRAINE MILITARY CEMETERY
ST. AVOLD, FRANCE

150TH ENGR. MEMBERS PLOT ROW GRAVE
BLYTHE, ALBERT G. C 30 43
CASSIDY, JAMES P J 49 26
ELMER, HENRY A. J 13 25
KOPF, HENRY A 27 23
MULLINS, THOMAS J C 9 17
URBAN, CARL Z G 13 30

WALL OF THE MISSING

OTIS, THOMAS W.

Email: Click here for email

Back ButtonBack to 150th's Main Page