Veterans Hotline: The history of ‘Taps’ |

Veterans Hotline: The history of ‘Taps’

Ed Wilkinson

Have you ever wondered where “Taps” originated?

“Taps” is a 24-note bugle call. It is played by the military at burial and memorial services, when the U.S. flag is lowered, and to signal “lights out” command at the end of the day.

While the tune for “Taps” is sad, it also suggests a sense of rest and peace. The origin of “Taps” can be traced back to the Civil War.

Up to the time of the Civil War, a bugler or drummer would signal the end of the day by playing a tune called “Lights Out.” This tune was borrowed from a French tune, also called “Lights Out,” which was used for the same purpose.

In June 1862, Union general Daniel Adams Butterfield (Third Brigade, First Division, Fifth Army Corps, Army of the Potomac) lost 600 men and was wounded during the Seven Days Battles in Virginia.

In the aftermath of the battles, Butterfield wanted to honor his men but felt that “Lights Out” was not appropriate. So, he called his bugler, private Oliver Wilcox Norton, to his tent.

Butterfield had written a tune on the back of an envelope and asked Norton to play it. After several revisions, Norton was ordered to play the piece that night and at the end of each day instead of the regulation call.

Buglers from nearby camps heard it, liked it, and started to play it each night. The tune spread and was made the official Army bugle call after the Civil War. It took the name “Taps” in 1874.

The first time “Taps” was played at a military funeral may have been in Virginia soon after Butterfield composed it. Union captain John Tidball, head of an artillery battery, ordered it to be played for the burial of a cannoneer killed in action.

The captain did not want to reveal his position, so he ordered “Taps” to be played instead of the traditional three-rifle shot salute.

“Taps” was also adopted by the Confederate Army. It was also played at General Stonewall Jackson’s funeral.

In 1891, Army infantry regulations required “Taps” to be played at military funeral ceremonies.

Weapon gets heavier with age

Riding in last weekend’s parade, I had forgotten how heavy the M1 Garand is.

In basic training, at 18 years old, the weapon felt light. Holding it at right shoulder arms for the parade made me aware of how old I am getting.

Talk about muscle cramp.

Educators passing patriotism

Also, while passing spectators with the American flag I noticed (as usual) how many young children stood, either put their hand over their heart or saluted while their parents sat in their chairs or on the curb and left their hats on.

So, evidently the teachers of Moffat County are teaching these children patriotism and respect for the flag.

Speaking for myself (and I am sure from all veterans), thank you teachers. Maybe the parents of these children should take lessons from them in flag protocol.

For information on these programs and/or other veterans’ benefits, call or stop in the Moffat County Veterans Service Office at 480 Barclay St., west of the Bank of Colorado parking lot.

Call 824-3246 or use the fax at 824-7108. Our e-mail address is The office is open from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays. Other times can be arranged by appointment only.

Bring a copy of your separation papers (DD-214) for application for VA programs and for filing at our office.

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