History of Taps
It’s 1862. The soldiers’ feet ache from marching, grabbing supplies, running to where they are needed and back. But the sky is dark and a chill wind blows softly across the camp that has been hastily set up. Sleep pulls at their eyes and their knees long to rest from supporting so much weight. But they can’t until the bugle sounds. It soon does, but the sound is different than before. Instead of the stiff, formal chatter the troops are used to, this song is soothing, resembling a lullaby. It calls “lights out” to every soldier, officer, and commander. And so began the history of taps.
For many years, a French bugle call sounded every night while troops were at war. It signaled the end of the day and time for sleep, but like many other traditions in history, the song grew outdated. Although many theories have cropped up about the origin of Taps, the story that has been widely accepted is that of Daniel Adams Butterfield, a Civil War Union General. After hearing the traditional signal for lights out repeated each night, Butterfield grew tired of its formal tune and decided to compose a new one, sometimes called “Butterfield’s Lullaby” but more widely known as Taps. It wasn’t long before the call caught on in several brigades, and even the Confederate Army started using it at every day’s end.
In the beginning, the song had virtually nothing to do with death at all. In 1862, a captain of Union artillery need to conduct a funeral ceremony for a fallen soldier, but due to the proximity of the enemy, he could not conduct the ceremonial three volley tribute. Instead, he ordered Taps to be played as an acceptable substitute. This story became the first recorded instance of Taps being used for military funeral purposes.
History of Taps: Words Set to the Music
There are no official words to Taps, but many lyrics have been written over the years to accompany the haunting tune. The most well-known verse is one that gave the tune one of its names “Day Is Done.” That verse and the ones that followed it in that version of the song were written by Horace Lorenzo Trim:
The majority of the song speaks of day fading into night and the world growing dark. The line “Scouts must go to their beds” is an obvious call for bedtime, but no one can ignore the symbolism that speaks of soldiers dying and peacefully giving their souls to God. Several choir groups have sung this song (with a variety of additional verses) as a tribute to its meaning as a close to the day and as a farewell to fallen soldiers. The traditional song only contains 24 notes, 4 of which are distinct, and the melody is incredibly simple. Even so, the words are hauntingly beautiful when sung.
Have You Heard Taps Played?
Taps is played in many places and occasions, including at meetings for Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, and Girl Guide. Taps is also played at every military funeral as a farewell to the service member who has died. In many areas of the United States, a professional bugler can be provided for the funeral by the military honor guard. However, few buglers are available in the military. If a live bugler is not available and the family cannot afford to hire one, they may also choose to have a digital or fake bugle. In this case, an MP3 player is inserted into the bell of a bugle, and the person holding it will give the appearance of a real performance.
Regardless of experience or background, nearly everyone has heard Taps played at some point in their lives, whether on TV, at a funeral, or in band class. Not long ago, several employees at Low VA Rates had the opportunity to do some community service in a local veterans cemetery. While there, they heard taps played at the funeral of a fallen veteran. Needless to say, this was a powerful moment for everyone. Since helping veterans is what Low VA Rates is all about, we are reminded constantly of our veterans’ selfless service to this country. Call us now to learn more about how we can help you save money on your mortgage.