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An Excerpt From Twenty-Four Notes That Tap Deep Emotions: The story of America’s most famous bugle call

What could account for the variation in stories? My research shows that Butterfield did not compose Taps but actually revised an earlier bugle call. The fact is that Taps existed in an early version of the call Tattoo. As a signal for end of the day, armies have used Tattoo to signal troops to prepare them for bedtime roll call. The call was used to notify the soldiers to cease the evening’s drinking and return to their garrisons. It was sounded an hour before the final call of the day to extinguish all fires and lights. This early version is found in three manuals – the Winfield Scott (1786-1866) manual of 1835, the Samuel Cooper (1798-1876) manual of 1836 and the William Gilham (1819?-1872) manual of 1861. This call, referred to as the Scott Tattoo, was in use from 1835-1860.

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A second version of Tattoo came into use just before the Civil War and was in use throughout the war replacing the Scott Tattoo.

The fact that Norton says that Butterfield composed Taps cannot be questioned. He was relaying the facts as he remembered them. His conclusion that Butterfield wrote Taps can be explained by the presence of the second Tattoo. It was most likely that the second Tattoo, followed by Extinguish Lights (the first eight measures of today’s Tattoo), was sounded by Norton during the course of the war.

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It seems possible that these two calls were sounded to end the soldier’s day on both sides during the war. It must therefore be evident that Norton did not know the early Tattoo or he would have immediately recognized it that evening in Butterfield’s tent. If you review the events of that evening, Norton came into Butterfield’s tent and played notes that were already written down on an envelope. Then Butterfield, “changed it somewhat, lengthening some notes and shortening others, but retaining the melody as he first gave it to me.” If you compare that statement while looking at the present day Taps, you will see that this is exactly what happened to turn the early (Scott) Tattoo into Taps.

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Butterfield, as stated above, was a Colonel before the War and in General Order No. 1 issued by him on December 7, 1859 had the order: “The Officers and non-commissioned Officers are expected to be thoroughly familiar with the first thirty pages, Vol. 1, Scott’s Tactics, and ready to answer any questions in regard to the same previous to the drill above ordered.” Scott’s Tactics include the bugle calls that Butterfield must have known and used. If Butterfield was using Scott’s Tactics for drills, then it is feasible that he would have used the calls as set in the manual.

Lastly, it is hard to believe that Butterfield could have composed anything that July in the aftermath of the Seven Days battles which saw the Union Army of the Potomac mangled by Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. Over twenty six thousand casualties were suffered on both sides. Butterfield had lost over 600 of his men on June 27th at the battle of Gaines Mill and had himself been wounded. In the midst of the heat, humidity, mud, mosquitoes, dysentery, typhoid and general wretchedness of camp life in that early July, it is hard to imagine being able to write anything.

In the interest of historical accuracy, it should be noted that General Butterfield did not compose Taps, rather that he revised an earlier call into the present day bugle call we know as Taps. This is not meant to take credit away from him.

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Following the Peninsular Campaign, Butterfield served at 2nd Bull Run, Antietam and at Marye’s Heights in the Battle of Fredericksburg. Through political connections and his ability for administration, he was promoted to Major General and served as Chief of Staff of the Union Army of the Potomac under Generals Joseph Hooker and George Meade. He was wounded at Gettysburg and then reassigned to the Western Theater. By war’s end, he was breveted a Brigadier General and stayed in the army after the Civil War, serving as superintendent of the army’s recruiting service in New York City and Colonel of the 5th Infantry. In 1870, after resigning from the military, Butterfield went back to work with the American Express Company. He was in charge of a number of special public ceremonies, including General William Tecumseh Sherman’s funeral in 1891.

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Butterfield died in 1901. His tomb is the most ornate in the cemetery at West Point despite the fact that he never attended. There is also a monument to Butterfield in New York City near Grant’s Tomb. There is nothing on either monument that mentions Taps or Butterfield’s association with the call. Taps was sounded at his funeral.

How did the call 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.

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The first sounding of Taps at a military funeral is commemorated in a stained glass window at The Chapel of the Centurion (The Old Post Chapel) at Fort Monroe, Virginia.

The site where Taps was born is also commemorated by a monument located on the grounds of Berkeley Plantation, Virginia. This monument to Taps was erected by the Virginia American Legion and dedicated on July 4, 1969. The site is also rich in history, for the Harrisons of Berkeley Plantation included Benjamin Harrison and William Henry Harrison, both presidents of the United States as well as Benjamin Harrison (father and great grandfather of future presidents), a signer of the Declaration of Independence.
This monument was rededicated 1n July, 2012.


Other stories of the origin of Taps exist. A popular, yet false, one is that of a Northern boy who was killed fighting for the south. His father, Robert Ellicombe, a Captain in the Union Army, came upon his son’s body on the battlefield and found the notes to Taps in a pocket of the dead boy’s Confederate uniform. He had the notes sounded at the boy’s funeral. There is no evidence to back up the story or the existence of a Captain Ellicombe.

Why the name Taps? The call of Tattoo was used in order to assemble soldiers for the last roll call of the day. Tattoo may have originated during the Thirty Years War (1618-1648) or during the wars of King William III during the 1690s. The word tattoo in this usage is derived from the Dutch tap (tap or faucet) and toe (to cut off). When it was time to cease drinking for the evening and return to the post, the provost or Officer of the Day, accompanied by a sergeant and drummer, would go through the town beating out the signal. As far as military regulations went, there was a prescribed roll call to be taken “at Taptoe time” to ensure that all the troops had returned to their billets. It is possible that the word Tattoo became Taps. Tattoo was also called Tap-toe and as is true with slang terms in the military, it was shortened to Taps.

The other, and more likely, explanation is that the name Taps was borrowed from a drummer’s beat. The beating of Tattoo by the drum corps would be followed by the Drummer of the Guard beating three distinct drum taps at four count intervals for the military evolution Extinguish Lights. During the American Civil War, Extinguish Lights was the bugle call used as the final call of the day and as the name implies, it was a signal to extinguish all fires and lights. Following the call, three single drum strokes were beat at four-count intervals. This was known as the “Drum Taps” or in common usage of soldiers “The Taps” or “Taps.” There are many references to the term “Taps” before the war and during the conflict, before the bugle call we are all familiar with came into existence. So the drum beat that followed Extinguish Lights came to be called “Taps” by the common soldiers and when the new bugle call was created in July 1862 to replace the more formal sounding Extinguish Lights, (the one Butterfield disliked), the bugle call also came to be known as “Taps.”

The new bugle signal (also known as “Butterfield’s Lullaby”) is called “Taps” in common usage because it is used for the same purpose as the three drum taps. However the U.S. Army still called it Extinguish Lights and it did not officially change the name to Taps until 1891. As soon as Taps was sounded that night in July 1862, words were put with the music. The first were, “Go To Sleep, Go to Sleep.” As the years went on many more versions were created.

There are no official words to the music but here are some of the more popular verses:

Day is done, gone the sun,
From the lake, from the hill,
From the sky.
All is well, safely rest,
God is nigh.

Fades the light; And afar
Goeth day, 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.

As with many other customs, this solemn tradition continues today. Although Butterfield merely revised an earlier bugle call, his role in producing those twenty four notes gives him a place in the history of music as well as the history of war.

For more information about Taps, order the booklet Twenty-Four Notes That Tap Deep Emotions: The history of America’s most famous bugle call, by Jari Villanueva.

Taps Bibliography and Sources

Adams, John A. Softly Call The Muster–The Evolution of a Texas Aggie Tradition. College Station:Texas A&M Press, 1994.

Andrews, R. Snowden. Mounted Artillery Drill. Charleston, S.C.: Evans and Cogswell, 1863.

Associated Press. “Bugler’s Note Still Plays on Him” (November 22, 1988).

Bauman, Richard. “The Man Who Wrote Taps.” The Retired Officer (November 1989); 24-26, 28-29.

Billings, John D. Hardtack and Coffee or The Unwritten Story of Army Life. Boston: George Smithand Co., 1887. Reprinted by Nebraska Press, 1993.

Butterfield, Daniel A. Camp and Outpost Duty For Infantry. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1863.

Butterfield, Julia L. A Biographical Memorial of General Daniel Butterfield including many Addresses and Military Writings. New York: The Grafton Press, 1904.

Blankenship, Ted. “Butterfield’s Monument in Sound.” V.F.W. Magazine (May 1969); 18, 40.

Blankenship, Ted. “Modernization Means Playing Taps for a Noble Instrument.” Army (July 1985); 14-15.

Booth, Russell H. “Butterfield and Taps.” Civil War Times Illustrated XVI (December 1977); 34-39.

Chandler, Melbourne. Of Garry Owen in Glory: The History of the 7th U.S. Cavalry. N.p., 1960.

Cooper, Samuel. A Concise System of Instructions and Regulations for the Militia and Volunteers of the United States. Philadelphia: Robert Desilver, 1836.

Coski, John M. The Army of The Potomac At Berkeley Plantation–The Harrison’s Landing Occupation of 1862. Richmond, Va.: John Coski, 1989.

Custer, Elizabeth B. Following The Guidon. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1890.

The Dallas Morning News. The Day JFK Died–Thirty Years Later: The Event That Changed A Generation. Kansas City, Mo.: Andrews and McMeel, 1993.

Ditzel, Paul. “The Story of Taps.” The American Legion Magazine (August 1974); 10-13.

Dodworth, Allen. Dodworth’s Brass Band School: Containing…Band Tactics, which include all the

Camp Duty for Drum, Fife, and Field Bugle. New York: H.B. Dodworth and Co., 1853.

Downey, Fairfax. Fyfe, Drum and Bugle. Ft. Collins, Co.: The Old Army Press, 1971.

Hazen, Margaret H. and Robert M. The Music Men. An Illustrated History of Brass Bands in America, 1800-1920. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Press, 1987.

Howe, Elias. Howe’s United States Regulation Drum and Fife Instructor, For the Use of the Army and Navy…Also the Complete Bugle Calls for the Infantry, Artillery and Cavalry. Boston: Howe, 1862.

Jacobs, Eugene C. “A Prelude to the Bugle Call Taps.” Military Medicine, 143, no. 7 (July 1978); 486-487.

Judson, Amos M. History of the 83rd Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers. Erie, Pa.: B.F.H. Lynn Publishers, 1865. Reprinted by Morningside Publishers, Dayton, Ohio, 1986.

Kastner, Georges. Manuel Général de Musique Militaire a L’Usage des Armées Françaises. Paris: Didot Frères, 1848.

Kobbé, Gustav. “The Trumpet in Camp and Battle.” The Century Magazine LVI, no. 4 (August 1898; 537-543.

Lacy, Leslie A. The Soil Soldiers–Civilian Conservation Corps in the Great Depression. Radnor, Pennsylvania: Chilton Book Company, 1976.

Lee, Barbara. “The Broken Note.” Washingtonian Magazine (November 1993); 48-49.

Lovette, Leland P. Naval Customs–Traditions and Usage. Annapolis, Md: United States Naval Institute, 1939.

Lowens, Irving. “Accurate Listing of Funeral Music.” List of music from President’s Kennedy’s funeral procession. The Washington Star (December 1, 1963).

Luce, Stephen B. Text-Book of Seamanship: The Equipping and Handling of Vessels Under Sail or Steam. New York: D. Van Nostrand, 1884.

Manchester, William. The Death of a President. New York: Harper and Row, 1967.

McGratten, Alexander. “The Trumpet in Funeral Ceremonies in Scotland and England During the 17th Century.” Historic Brass Society Journal, 7 (1995); 168-184

Moss, James A. Officer’s Manual. Mensashe Wisc.: George Banta Publishing Co., 1913.

Nevins, James H. and Styple, William B. What Death More Glorious–A Biography of General Strong

Vincent. Kearny, N.J.: Belle Grove Publishing Co., 1997.

Norton, Arlene and Chauncey. Our Norton Family. Sun City, Ariz.: Published by the Authors, 1984.

Norton, Oliver W. Army Letters, 1861-1865. Chicago: O.L. Deming, 1903. Reprinted with additional material by Morningside, 1990.

Norton, Oliver W. The Attack and Defense of Little Round Top. New York: Neale Publishing Co., 1913.

Norton, Oliver W. Strong Vincent and His Brigade at Gettysburg, July 2, 1863. Chicago:, 1909.

Patterson, Daniel T. Station Bills Etc. of the U.S. Ship North Carolina Ship’s Manuscript, 1825. Annapolis, Md.: U.S. Naval Academy.; N.d.

Rauser, Frank. Music on the March, 1862-65, With the Army of the Potomac. Philadelphia: William Fell and Co., 1892.

Reed, Hugh T. Standard Infantry Tactics Embracing The Schools of the Squad and Company. Chicago: Published by the Author, 1887.

Reid, Thomas. “After Action Report, President Kennedy Funeral (Interment Ceremony).” 3rd U.S. Infantry Records (December 16, 1963).

Rohm, Frederic W. No Braver Man–The Story of Fritz Rohm, Bugler, 16th PA Cavalry.

Fredericksburg, Va: Sergeant Kirkland’s Press, 1998.

Sachs, Curt. The History of Musical Instruments. New York: W.W. Norton & Co.; N.d.

Safranek, V.F. Complete Instructive Manual for Bugle, Trumpet and Drum. New York: Carl Fisher, 1916.

Schlichter, Norman C. “The Birth of Taps.” Pennsylvania Guardsman 42 (May 1939); 3.

Scott, Winfield. Infantry Tactics; or, Rules for the Exercise and Manoeuvres of the United States Infantry. Vol. I. New York: George Dearborn, 1835.

Sousa, John P. A Book of Instruction for The Field Trumpet and Drum. Washington, D.C.: Published by the Author. Reprinted by Ludwig Music, Cleveland, Ohio, 1985.

Strube, Gardiner A. Strube’s Drum and Fife Instructor. New York: D. Appleton & Co., 1870. U.S. Army FM 12 – 50, U.S. Army Bands, 6 September 1991. U.S. Army Element, School of Music, Department of the Army. Washington D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1991.

U.S. Army Infantry Drill Regulations. Washington D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1891.

U.S. Marine Corps Manual For Drummers and Buglers. Washington, D.C.: Marine Corps Institute, 1959.

White, William C. A History of Military Music in America. New York: Exposition Press, 1944. Reprinted by Greenwood Press, Westport, Conn., 1975.

Wyman, Thomas W. Rules and Internal Regulations for the Government of the U.S. Ship Columbus Ship’s Manuscript, 1845. Annapolis, Md.: U.S. Naval Academy.

Whitney, Joseph L. and Sears, Stephen W. “The True Story of Taps.” Blue and Grey Magazine, (August 1993); 30-33.

About the author:

Jari A. Villanueva is a bugler and bugle historian.  A graduate of the Peabody Conservatory and Kent State University, he was the curator of the Taps Bugle Exhibit at Arlington National Cemetery from 1999-2002. He retired from the United States Air Force Band in 2008 and is considered the country’s foremost authority on the bugle call Taps.

More extensive bio can be found by clicking HERE

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  1. lol Raley lol Raley June 6, 2019

    Excellent piece of history for this Memorial Day. I was 7 when WWll ended, but growing up near Fort Hood Texas, I remember the troop trains with soldiers headed for transfer locations. I had three uncles serving – one Navy in the Pacific, one Army serving under General Patton, and one serving in Army Intellegence in Europe. All survived! As the years pass, more emphasis needs to be given for remembrance of the sacrifice Americans made to stop the Nazis. Those veterans are rapidly fading away and the history of WWll along with them.

  2. Martin Martin July 2, 2017

    More interesting to add is, that Taps consists of 24 notes. Why this is important is that the number 24 is important to Freemasons — which Major General Daniel Butterfield was indeed a Freemason from Metropolitan Lodge #273 New York

  3. […] ceremony the history of the Taps was shared. I didn’t write it down, but I found this on the Taps Bugler Website  As the story goes, General Butterfield was not pleased with the call for Extinguish Lights, […]

  4. Tapsbugler Tapsbugler Post author | April 15, 2013

    the name Taps come from three drum taps. Please refer to the history of Taps on this site

  5. Donald Kalbach Donald Kalbach April 15, 2013

    I had always heard, and I’m sure I read somewhere, that the name taps also referred to “tap-to,” which signaled that that taps on the beer kegs were to be shut, or turned “to.” I do not find that information anywhere. Is there any truth to this?

  6. Harry Weglin Harry Weglin October 20, 2012

    The Bugler
    © by Harry Weglin 2011

    At Arlington
    where heroes sleep
    at Gettysburg
    and Flanders too

    From off my shining bugle
    the setting sun
    Fires a flash of light
    to the downcast faces
    gathered ‘round

    each time as the first
    Tears burn my cheeks
    Once a young recruit
    now an
    Old soldier am I

    When I am placed
    among the heroes
    to sleep
    Who will raise a bugle
    For me ?

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