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“Taps”

“Taps” is a musical piece sounded by the U.S. military nightly to indicate that it is “lights out”. The tune is also sometimes known as “Butterfield’s Lullaby”, or by the lyrics of its second verse, “Day is Done”. It is also played during flag ceremonies and funerals, generally on bugle or trumpet. The term originates from the Dutch term taptoe.
The tune is actually 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 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 W. Norton, of Erie, 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, as well as hundreds of others around the United States. The tune is also sounded at many memorial services in Arlington’s Memorial Amphitheater and at grave sites throughout the cemetery.
Captain John C. Tidball, West Point, Class of 1848, started the custom of playing taps at a military funeral. It was in early July, 1862 at Harrison’s Landing, that a corporal of Tidball’s Battery A, 2nd Artillery, died. He was, Tidball recalled later, “a most excellent man.” Tidball desired to bury him with full military honors, but was refused, for military reasons, permission to fire three guns over his 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.”
It became a standard component to U.S. military funerals in 1891.
“Taps” is sounded during each of the 2,500 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” is also sounded nightly in military installations at non-deployed locations to indicate that it is “lights out”, and often by Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts/ Girl Guides to mark the end of an evening event such as a campfire.
When “Taps” is sounded at a funeral, it is customary for serving members of the military or veterans to salute. The corresponding gesture for civilians is to place the right hand over the heart.

Lyrics
There is one original set of lyrics meant to accompany the music:
Day is done, gone the sun
From the lakes, 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 near
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.
Several later lyrical adaptations have been created. One, written by Horace Lorenzo Trim, is shown below:
Fading light dims the sight
And a star gems the sky, gleaming bright
From afar drawing nigh,
Falls the night.

Day is done, gone the sun
From the lakes, from the hills, from the skies
All is well, safely rest;
God is nigh.

Then goodnight, peaceful night;
Till the light of the dawn shineth bright.
God is near, do not fear,
Friend, goodnight.
The other popular version, penned and harmonized by famed composer Josef Pasternack, is:
Love, sweet dreams!
Lo, the beams of the light Fairy moon kissed the streams,
Love, Goodnight!
Ah so soon!
Peaceful dreams!
Another set of lyrics, used in a recording made by John Wayne about the song, is:
Fading light
Falling night
Trumpet call, as the sun, sinks in fright
Sleep in peace, comrades dear,
God is near.
Many Scouting and Guiding groups around the world sing the second verse of “Taps” (“Day is Done..”) at the close of a camp or campfire. It is often referred to as Vespers[citation needed] meaning evening prayer. Scouts in encampment may also have the unit’s bugler sound taps once the rest of the unit has turned in, to signify that the day’s activities have concluded and that silence is expected in the camp.
Music
The melody of “Taps” is composed entirely from the written notes of the C major triad (i.e. C, E, and G, with the G used in the lower and higher octaves). This is because the bugle, for which it is written, can play only the notes in the harmonic series of the fundamental tone of the instrument; a B-flat bugle would play the notes B-flat, D, and F. “Taps” uses the 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th partials. [note: in B=flat this transposes to B-flat, E-flat and G]
Regulations
Army Regulation 220-90, Army Bands dated December 2007, Paragraph 2-5h(1) states the following: “Echo Taps” or “Silver Taps,” the practice of performing “Taps” with multiple buglers, is not authorized. “Echo Taps” is not a part of Army tradition and improperly uses bugler assets.
Army Regulation 600-25, Salutes, Honors, and Visits of Courtesy, dated September 2004, Glossary, Section 2 states the following: “Taps The traditional “lights out” musical composition played at military funerals and memorials. The official version of “Taps” is played by a single bugle. In accordance with AR 220–90, “Echo or Silver Taps,” which is performed by 2 buglers, is not authorized.”
Field Manual 12-50, U.S. Army Bands, dated October 1999, Appendix A, Official And Ceremonial Music, Appendix A, Section 1 – Ceremonial Music, Paragraph A-35 “A-35. Signals that unauthorized lights are to be extinguished. This is the last call of the day. The call is also sounded at the completion of a military funeral ceremony. Taps is to be performed by a single bugler only. Performance of “Silver Taps” or “Echo Taps” is not consistent with Army traditions, and is an improper use of bugler assets.
Legends
There are several urban legends concerning the origin of “Taps”. The most widely circulated one states that a Union Army infantry officer, whose name is often given as Captain Robert Ellicombe, first ordered the “Taps” performed at the funeral of his son, a Confederate soldier killed during the Peninsula Campaign. This apocryphal story claims that Ellicombe found the tune in the pocket of his son’s clothing and performed it to honor his memory. But there is no record of any man named Robert Ellicombe holding a commission as captain in the Army of the Potomac during the Peninsula Campaign.
That Daniel Butterfield composed “Taps” has been sworn to by numerous reputable witnesses including Oliver Norton, the bugler who first performed the tune. While scholars continue to debate whether or not the tune was original or based on an earlier melody, few researchers doubt that Butterfield is responsible for the current tune.
Another, perhaps more historically verifiable, account of “Taps” first being used in the context of a military funeral involves John C. Tidball, a Union artillery captain who during a break in fighting ordered the tune sounded for a deceased soldier in lieu of the more traditional—and much less discreet—three volley tribute. Army Col. James A. Moss, in an Officer’s Manual initially published in 1911, reports the following:
“During the Peninsula Campaign in 1862, a soldier of Tidball’s Battery A of the 2nd Artillery was buried at a time when the battery occupied an advanced position concealed in the woods. It was unsafe to fire the customary three volleys over the grave, on account of the proximity of the enemy, and it occurred to Capt. Tidball that the sounding of Taps would be the most appropriate ceremony that could be substituted.”
While not necessarily addressing the origin of the “Taps”, this does represent a milestone as the first recorded instance of “Taps” being played as part of a military funeral. Until then, while the tune had meant that the soldiers’ day of work was finished, it had little to none of the connotation or overtone of death with which it is so often associated today.

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