DURING a visit to Arlington National Cemetery, Va., you might hear
echoes of "Taps" being sounded by a bugler from one of the armed forces of
the United States.
The 132-year-old bugle call was composed by Brig. Gen. Daniel Butterfield,
who commanded the 3rd Brigade, 1st Division, V Army Corps, Army of the
Potomac, during the American Civil War.
Butterfield wrote "Taps" at Harrison's Landing, Va., in July 1862
the customary firing of three rifle volleys at the end of burials during
battle. "Taps" also replaced "Tatoo," the French bugle call to signal
"lights out." Butterfield's bugler, Oliver W. Norton of Chicago, was the
first to sound the new call. Within months, "Taps" was sounded by buglers in
both Union and Confederate forces.
"Taps" concludes nearly 15 military funerals conducted with honors
weekday at the Arlington National Cemetery as well as hundreds of others
around the country. The tune is also played at many memorial services in
Arlington's Memorial Amphitheater and at gravesites throughout the cemetery.
"Taps" is sounded during the 2,500 military wreath ceremonies conducted
the Tomb of the Unknowns every year, including the ones to be held this
Memorial Day. The ceremonies are viewed by many groups, including veterans,
schools, and foreign officials.
One of the final bugle calls of the day on military installations,
played at 10 p.m. as a signal to service members that it is "lights out."
When "Taps" is played, it is customary to salute, if in uniform, or place
your hand over your heart if not.
The composer of "Taps" was born Oct. 31, 1831, in Utica, N.Y., and
the Army in Washington, D.C.
He was awarded the Medal of Honor in the U.S. Volunteers on June
After his brigade lost more than 600 men in the Battle of Gaines Mill,
Butterfield took up the colors of the 83rd Pennsylvania Volunteers. Under
heavy enemy fire, he encouraged the depleted ranks to regroup and continue
Butterfield died July 17, 1901, and was buried at the U.S. Military
at West Point, N.Y. "Taps" was sounded at his funeral.
Kathryn Shenkle is a historian with Arlington National Cemetery.
Composed By Major General Daniel Butterfield
Army of the Potomac, Civil War
"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 lake, from the hills, from the sky.
All is well, safely rest, God is nigh.
"Then good night, peaceful night,
Till the light of the dawn shineth bright,
God is near, do not fear -- Friend, good night."
"TAPS" is the most beautiful bugle call. Played slowly and softly,
it has a
smooth, tender and touching character. The bugle call was written during the
Peninsula Campaign of the Civil War by General Butterfield, with an assist
from his bugler, Oliver W. Norton, in 1862.
"TAPS" went on from its origin as an alternative to "Lights Out"
not only a signal that day was done, but also to say good-bye to a fallen
"TAPS" is customarily played at funerals at Arlington national Cemetery
well as at ceremonies at the Tomb of the Unknowns there.
Its composer is buried in the Post Cemetery at the United States
Academy at West Point (even though he did not graduate from the Academy).
Perhaps no group has initiated and still follows more funeral/burial
traditions than the military, although most of the customs currently in place
among the United States armed forces are carry overs from the British army
and navy. The most recognized rituals of a military funeral include draping
the casket with the flag, cannon salutes, firing three rifle shots across the
gravesite, a 21-gun salute, and the playing of Taps. Of course, the latter is
a truly American bugle call, with roots in the Civil War when
it earned its nickname because it was often tapped out by a drummer when no
bugler was available. The tune was composed by Union general Daniel
Butterfield in 1862 who penned the tune to replace "Tattoo," another "lights
out" call which he felt was too rigid. He was stationed in southern territory
at Harrison's Landing, Virginia, and perhaps that's how the tune came to be
played in both North and South camps. At first the call was reserved to
simply signal sundown in the camps and its first use at a funeral was more
out of military strategy than anything else. In 1862, according to a manual
later published by a Union officer, a soldier was buried at the same his
battery had occupied a position not far from enemy lines. The custom was to
fire three rifle shots over the grave, but due to the forward position of the
troops, the captain in charge decided against the rifle shots and felt the
playing of "Taps," since it was solemn and also would not alarm the enemy
into thinking an attack was coming, would be a worthy substitute. It quickly
became a custom at all services for Union soldiers and was then officially
decreed by the heads of the Army of the
"Taps" was officially adopted by the United States Army in 1874.