The History Of The Military Taps At Military Funerals

Military Funeral Prosession

We in the United States have all heard the haunting song, ‘Taps…’ It’s the song that gives us the lump in our throats and usually tears in our eyes.

Bugler Playing Taps
Bugler Playing Taps

“Taps” is a bugle call played at dusk, during flag ceremonies, and at military funerals by the United States armed forces. The official military version is played by a single bugle or trumpet, although other versions of the tune may be played in other contexts (e.g., the U.S. Marine Corps Ceremonial Music site has recordings of two bugle and one band version[1]). It is also performed often at Boy Scout, Girl Scout, and Girl Guide meetings and camps. The tune is also sometimes known as “Butterfield’s Lullaby”, or by the first line of the lyric, “Day Is Done”. The duration may vary to some extent; the typical recording below is 59 seconds long.

Taps is derived from the same source as Tattoo

“Taps” originates from the Dutch taptoe, meaning “close the (beer) taps (and send the troops back to camp)”. An alternative explanation, however, is that it carried over from a term already in use before the American Civil War. Three single, slow drum beats were struck after the sounding of the Tattoo or “Extinguish Lights”. This signal was known as the “Drum Taps”, “The Taps”, or simply as “Taps” in soldier’s slang.

The tune is a variation of an earlier bugle call known as the “Scott Tattoo”, which was used in the U.S. from 1835 until 1860, and was arranged in its present form by the Union Army Brigadier General Daniel Butterfield, an American Civil War general and Medal of Honor recipient who commanded the 3rd Brigade of the 1st Division in the V Army Corps of the Army of the Potomac while at Harrison’s Landing, Virginia, in July 1862 to replace a previous French bugle call used to signal “lights out”. Butterfield’s bugler, Oliver Wilcox Norton, of East Springfield, Pennsylvania, was the first to sound the new call. Within months “Taps” was used by both Union and Confederate forces. It was officially recognized by the United States Army in 1874.

“Taps” concludes many military funerals conducted with honors at Arlington National Cemetery and elsewhere in the United States.  The tune is also sounded at many memorial services in Arlington’s Memorial Amphitheater and at grave sites throughout the cemetery.

Music Sheet - Taps
Music Sheet – Taps

Captain John Francis Tidball, West Point Class of 1848, started the custom of playing “Taps” at military funerals. In early July 1862 at Harrison’s Landing, a corporal of Tidball’s Battery A, 2nd U. S.. Artillery, died. He was, Tidball recalled later, “a most excellent man”. Tidball wished to bury him with full military honors, but, for military reasons, he was refused permission to fire three guns over the grave. Tidball later wrote, “The thought suggested itself to me to sound taps instead, which I did. The idea was taken up by others, until in a short time it was adopted by the entire army and is now looked upon as the most appropriate and touching part of a military funeral.” As Tidball proudly proclaimed, “Battery A has the honor of having introduced this custom into the service, and it is worthy of historical note.”

Taps became a standard component to U.S. military funerals in 1891

“Taps” is sounded during each of the military wreath ceremonies conducted at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier every year, including the ones held on Memorial Day. The ceremonies are viewed by many people, including veterans, school groups, and foreign officials. “Taps” also is sounded nightly in military installations at non-deployed locations to indicate that it is “lights out”, and often by Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and Girl Guides to mark the end of an evening event such as a campfire.

Day is done, gone the sun,
From the lake, 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.

Sun has set, shadows come,
Time has fled, Scouts must go to their beds
Always true to the promise that they made.

While the light fades from sight,
And the stars gleaming rays softly send,
To thy hands we our souls, Lord, commend.

Also remember those who have served and returned and for those presently serving in the Armed Forces.

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Born in Toledo, Ohio circa 1950. I was the oldest of four children and had the good fortune to be inquisitive about wildlife and specifically rabbits and pheasants that were abundant in the area that I was raised in. With later moves to Michigan, I found that exploring the great outdoors was just a short bike ride away and I invested in a Havahart trap at age 11. Raccoons, skunks, squirrels and possum became the choice of prey and that stayed my mainstay until college. I knew that elk were abundant and of trophy class in Arizona so it sealed the deal for relocating here. Since 1986 I have spent as much time as possible learning about elk and trying to become a better hunter.

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