The Story of Taps

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Today is Veteran’s Day, which use to be Armistice Day. On this day veterans living and dead are to be honored. Many of you have been to a funeral in which taps was played or heard it played on TV and in movies. But what do you know about this mournful song? I will relate an UNTRUE story to all who read this and then relate the TRUE story in hope to give you a new meaning to the tune and its story. This is a story every American should know. It all began in 1862 during the Civil War, when Union Army Captain Robert Ellicombe was with his men near Harrison’s Landing in Virginia. The Confederate Army was on the other side of a narrow strip of land. During the night, Captain Ellicombe heard the moans of a soldier who lay severely wounded on the field. Not knowing if it was a Union or Confederate soldier, the Captain decided to risk his life and bring the stricken man back for medical attention. Crawling on his stomach through the gunfire, the Captain reached the stricken soldier and began pulling him toward his encampment. When the Captain finally reached his own lines, he discovered it was actually a Confederate soldier, but the soldier was dead. The Captain lit a lantern and suddenly caught his breath and went numb with shock. In the dim light, he saw the face of the soldier. It was his son. The boy had been studying music in the South when the war broke out. Without telling his father, the boy enlisted in the Confederate Army. The following morning, heartbroken, the father asked permission of his superiors to give his son a full military burial, despite his enemy status. His request was only partially granted. The Captain had asked if he could have a group of Army band members play a funeral dirge for his son at the funeral. The request was turned down since the soldier was a Confederate. But, out of respect for the father, they did say they could give him only one musician. The Captain chose a bugler. He asked the bugler to play a series of musical notes he had found on a piece of paper in the pocket of the dead youth’s uniform. This wish was granted. The haunting melody, we now know as ‘Taps’ used at military funerals was born. This is the false story swimming around the internet. This is a very touching and heartfelt story but a LIE which was fabricated by a failing TV show, Ripley’s Believe It Or Not.  

 Here is the true story of 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 type call known as Last Post has been sounded over soldiers’ graves since 1885, but the use of Taps is unique to the United States military. The call is sounded at funerals, wreath laying, memorial services and lights out. 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 Tactics (1801-1882), which had been borrowed from the French. The music for Taps was adapted by Union General Daniel Butterfield, a Medal of Honor recipient, for his brigade (Third Brigade, First Division, Fifth Army Corps, Army of the Potomac) in July 1862. 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 Wilcox Norton (1839-1920), wrote Taps to honor his men while in camp at Harrison’s Landing, Virginia, following the Seven Days battle. These battles took place during the Peninsular Campaign of 1862. The new call, sounded that night in July 1862, soon spread to other units of the Union Army and was reportedly also used by the Confederates. Taps was made an official bugle call after the war. America was a young country at this time and did not have very much in the way of tradition. This song helped start the tradition in our country of honoring our dead soldiers in a special way. The carnage of the Civil War placed a mark on our country and the people living at that time understood the loss of life was changing the country forever and tradition was born.

Here are the words:

Day is done.
Gone the sun.
From the lakes
From the hills.
From the sky.
All is well.
Safely rest.
God is nigh.

Fading light.
Dims the sight.
And a star.
Gems the sky.
Gleaming bright.
From afar.
Drawing nigh.
Falls the night.

Thanks and praise.
For our days.
Neath the sun
Neath the stars.
Neath the sky
As we go.
This we know
God is nigh.
I have felt the chills on my body, the lump in my throat, and the tears around my eyes while listening to ‘Taps’ but I have never seen all the words to the song. Most people don’t even know there was more than one verse. I also never knew the story behind the song. I now have an even deeper respect for the song than I did before.

Please Remember Those Lost and Harmed While Serving Their Country.

Also Remember Those Who Have Served And Returned, and for those presently serving in the Armed Forces.

Published in: on November 11, 2010 at 3:36 pm  Leave a Comment  

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