Every soldier remembers the haunting notes of Taps from their first night of boot camp, but few understand where the tradition came from or know what the words to the music are.
lt 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 the narrow strip of land. During the night, Captain Ellicombe heard the moan of a soldier who lay mortally 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 moaning stricken soldier and began pulling him toward his encampment. When the captain in ally reached his own lines, he discovered it was actually a Confederate soldier, but the soldier was dead.
The captain lit a lantern. Suddenly, he caught his breath and went numb with shock. In the dim light, he saw the face of the soldier. It was his only son.The boy had been studying music in the South when the war broke out. Without telling his father, he 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 partially granted.
The captain had asked if he could have a group of Army band members play a funeral dirge for the son at the funeral. That request was turned down since the soldier was a Confederate. 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 his dead son's uniform. This wish was granted. This music was the haunting melody we now know as "Taps" that is used at all military funerals and played each evening at all military facilities.
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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 to replace 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 each 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
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