Taps – Twenty Four Notes that Honor Duty, Courage and Death

Nov 11, 2012 by

On the eve of Veteran’s Day – a post from Frost Wilkinson, a dear friend

Hi Folks,
As you know, today is Veteran’s Day – the day, as a grateful nation, we honor those men and women who have served in the US Armed Forces and especially those who made the Ultimate sacrifice in Service to their country.
Taps, the military traditional ballad, has been played many times across the nation today.  I don’t know about now, but when I was in the Army, Taps was played every night at 10:00 PM – light out time – over a PA system on Army posts around the world.  I still remember hearing Taps for the first time as a soldier – my first night in an Army barracks.  That was at Ft. Jackson, Columbia, SC, July 16, 1964.  I’ve never been able to find a way to accurately describe the sound of Taps.  I remember some of the younger GI’s in the barracks that night were whimpering softly in their bunks, lads only 18 years old and away from home the first time in their lives.  I often wonder how many of those fellows who were with me through Reception at Jackson and Basic Training at Ft. Gordon in Augusta, GA, made it back home after their 2 or 3 years in the Army.  The war in Vietnam had not started yet but that horror was to come all too soon for so many.

Today, 48 years later, I can’t help but cry a little every time I hear Taps.  The memories, the emotions are still impossible to describe with any degree of accuracy.  But tears can say a great deal.  So when you hear Taps, even if you have not had any military experience, pause and reflect on what that simple, beautiful, sort of mournful ballad represents – the joy of victory, the heartache of death and the pain of horrendous wounds received in battle.

The spirit of Duty, Honor and Courage also deserves moments of reflection and thought, and not just on Veterans Day or Memorial Day or July 4th.  As long as American men and women are on or near a battlefield we must maintain a commitment to their support and an awareness of their condition.  I fault the media for being too quick to publish sensation and yet the daily existence of our troops in Afghanistan goes largely unnoticed.

The history of Taps is interesting.  The following is from the referenced website –

The true story (of Taps) is that in July 1862, after the Seven Days battles at Harrison’s Landing (near Richmond), Virginia, the wounded Commander of the 3rd Brigade, 1st Division, V Army Corps, Army of the Potomac, General Daniel Butterfield reworked, with his bugler Oliver Wilcox Norton, another bugle call, “Scott Tattoo,” to create Taps. He thought that the regular call for Lights Out was too formal. Taps was adopted throughout the Army of the Potomac and finally confirmed by orders. Soon other Union units began using Taps, and even a few Confederate units began using it as well. After the war, Taps became an official bugle call. Col. James A. Moss, in his Officer’s Manual first published in 1911, gives an account of the initial use of Taps at a military funeral:
“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 to the enemy, and it occurred to Capt. Tidball that the sounding of Taps would be the most appropriate ceremony that could be substituted.” Re: www.usmemorialday.org/taps.html
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24 Notes That Tap Deep Emotions
Jari A. Villanueva

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. 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.   Re: www.west-point.org/taps/Taps.html
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The words to Taps

Day is done,
gone the sun,
From the hills,
from the lake,
From the skies.
All is well,
safely rest,
God is nigh.

Go to sleep,
peaceful sleep,
May the soldier
or sailor,
God keep.
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
Shineth bright,
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.
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