Clayton E. Moneymaker American Legion Post 237



The twenty-four notes of “Taps” compose, arguably, the most recognizable and emotionally charged music ever played on a bugle. Although we usually associate Taps with military funerals, that was not always the case.

Originally, Taps was intended to signal lights out. Taps was written during the Civil War at Harrison’s Landing, Virginia after the Seven Days Battles in 1862. At the time, the call for lights out was a French tune called Extinguish Lights, but Union General Daniel Butterfield felt this was too formal. Instead, he wanted a more soothing call to tell his men the day was over, so he called for his brigade’s bugler, Oliver Norton, and the two worked together to write Taps. Here is Norton’s account of how that meeting went:
“One day, soon after the seven days’ battles on the Peninsular, when the Army of the Potomac was lying in camp at Harrison’s Landing, General Daniel Butterfield sent for me, and showing me some notes written in pencil on the back of an envelope. He asked me to sound them on my bugle. I did this several times, playing the music as written. He changed it somewhat,
lengthening some notes and shortening others but retaining the melody as he first gave it to me. After getting it to his satisfaction, he directed me to sound that call for Taps thereafter in place of the regulation call. The music was beautiful on that still summer night and was heard far beyond the limits of our Brigade. The next day I was visited by several buglers from neighboring brigades, asking for copies of the music which I gladly furnished.”

How did it become associated with funerals? The earliest official reference to the mandatory use of Taps at military funeral ceremonies is found in the U.S. Army Infantry Drill Regulations for 1891. Although it had doubtless been used unofficially long before that time under its former designation Extinguish Lights. The first documented use of Taps at a funeral was during the Peninsular Campaign in Virginia when Captain John C. Tidball of Battery A, 2nd Artillery ordered it played for the burial of a cannoneer killed in action. Since the enemy was close, he worried that the traditional three volleys would renew fighting.

Whether you’re on a military installation, attending a memorial event or honoring a veteran who lost his or her life, “Taps” is a sign of respect. Though it might only be 24 notes long, it is the official song of remembrance for the United States. It carries a lot of meaning, not just amongst those who served, but also for the entire nation. How do you honor the veterans in your life?

Day is done, gone the sun,
From the hills, from the lakes, from the skies,
All is well, safely rest, God is nigh.
Go to sleep, peaceful sleep, may the soldier
Or sailor, God keep. On the land or the deep, Safe in sleep.
Love, good night, must thou go,
When the day, and the night need thee so?
All is well, Speedeth all to their rest.
Fades the light; And the stars Shineth bright,
Fare thee well: Day has gone, night is on.
Thanks and praise, for our days, ‘Neath the sun,
‘Neath the stars, ‘Neath the sky,
As we go, this we know, God is nigh.

This article is dedicated to the members of the Clayton E. Moneymaker Post 237 and Post 229 Honor Guard who have unselfishly devoted their time and efforts to honor fallen veterans.

Contributed by Tom Hartley