I bet every one in America has heard the call Taps, maybe it was at a funeral or a parade or maybe they were enlisted in the Military and heard it every night. But only a handful of people know why it’s played or why it’s called Taps. Even less people don’t know the real story.
Some think that Taps is played because of this: Captain Ellicombe, a Union Army Captain, heard moans of a soldier in the night. Ellicombe could not tell if the dying solider was an Confederate or an Union, but he had to help him. He bent down to aid the solider and looked into his eyes and realizes that the solider was his son. In his son’s pocket he finds two papers one stating that he is a Confederate and one other with some notes on it. The next morning Ellicombe asked if he could have a funeral for his son. The regiment said he could not have a formal funeral because he was a Confederate, but in respect for the father he was aloud to have one instrument, he picked a bugler to play the notes that he found in his son’s pocket. But that’s just a myth.
Here is the real story, Daniel Adams Butterfield, a Colonel in the 12th Regiment of the New York States Militia (who was later promoted to General and given command of a brigade of the 5th Corps of the Army of the Potomac) was not happy with the call Extinguish Lights, but he liked the call Tattoo, so he revised it. He thought the call Extinguish Lights was to formal to signal the days end. So he asked Oliver Willcox Norton, the brigade’s bugler, to play Butterfield’s new call. He gave Norton an envelope with some notes scribbled on it. Norton and Butterfield constantly changed the original notes so that the final product sounded prefect. Norton wanted to honor the men who died in the Seven Day’s Battle. The call first sounded in July 1862, and it quickly spread as the war went on, first with the Unions ant then with the Confederates. It became an official bugle call after the war.
So why is it called Taps? Well, Jari A. Villanueva, a bugler and bugle historian, says it is called Taps because, “As far as military regulations went, there was a prescribed roll call to be taken “at Taptoe time” to ensure that all the troops had returned to their billets. It is possible that the word Tattoo became Taps. Tattoo was also called Tap-toe and as is true with slang terms in the military, it was shortened to Taps.”
Why is it played at funerals? At General William Tecumseh Sherman’s Funeral, who died in 1891, Taps was played. Taps soon was played at many Military Funerals including Butterfield’s who died in 1901. It is a good chose to play at funerals because it has a haunting yet soothing feeling to it.
So the next time you listen to Taps I hope you take into account that Taps is more then the Military’s Lullaby. Maybe you’ll think of the dead confederate boy, his notes the soundtrack to his small funeral, the only one he was allowed because of what side he fought on. Maybe you’ll think of General Butterfield and Norton sitting in the night writing taps.