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Daniel Adams Butterfield


Who was the general whose name is associated with Taps?  Daniel Adams Butterfield was born in Utica, New York, on October 31, 1831.  He was the third son (of nine children) born to John Butterfield and Malinda Baker Butterfield.  John Butterfield (1801-1869) was a prominent Utica businessman who pioneered the transportation business and was instrumental in starting America’s first overland express service.  A stage coach driver as a young man, Butterfield had risen to possess his own business and was hired to transport freight in Panama.  As president of the Overland Stage Company, he won a contract from the U.S. Government in 1858 to carry mail between St. Louis and San Francisco in three weeks.  This was a remarkable feat in the era before the transcontinental railroads. His company of Butterfield, Wasson and Company was one of the first to make profits by the rapid movement of merchandise.  This company would become the American Express Company.

John Butterfield

A director in the Utica City National Bank, John was also instrumental in building a telegraph line between Buffalo and New York.

Young Daniel Butterfield was enrolled at private schools and the Utica Academy. In 1849, Butterfield was involved with a arson fire in Utica in which caused the death of a citizen. He was indicted in 1851 for the crime based on a statement by a co-conspirator who was hanged but had the charges dropped in 1853. He graduated from Union College in Schenectady, New York, in 1849 (at the unusually early age of eighteen) and took up the study of law.  At Union College he had a fair record and was known as a leader and somewhat of a prankster.  After beginning his preliminary study of law, Butterfield found himself too young to enter the bar, so he decided to embark on an extended trip to the west.  He traveled to the Territory of Minnesota and journeyed through the forests with an Indian guide.  He boarded a steamer to New Orleans, where he had the opportunity to study the influence of slavery on the population and the political climate of the South.  He stated later that it was there that his feelings toward slavery were born.  When he returned to Utica, he joined the Utica Citizens’ Corps, a local militia organization.  Working for his father, he was entrusted with preparing a time table and schedule for the Overland Stage line running between Memphis, St. Louis, and San Francisco.

Daniel Butterfield as a colonel in the Twelfth N.Y. Militia

Butterfield moved to New York shortly afterward and became the eastern superintendent of the American Express Company.  He joined the Twelfth Regiment of the New York State Militia and despite his lack of military experience, rose quickly to the rank of colonel.  When the Civil War began, the Twelfth Regiment mustered in New York on April 19, 1861 and sailed for Washington, D.C. After arriving, the unit was assigned guard and garrison duty in the capital.  On May 24, Butterfield’s Regiment was at the head of the Union column that advanced into Alexandria, Virginia. The Twelfth served in the Shenandoah Valley during the Bull Run campaign.  While serving as a colonel of the Twelfth, Butterfield received word from American Express on August 15, 1861, that he would continue drawing his full salary as superintendent of the company for the duration of the war.

Butterfield’s full military career during the Civil War was as follows:
First sergeant, Clay Guards, District of Columbia Volunteers (April 16, 1861); colonel, 12th New York Militia (May 2, 1861); lieutenant colonel, 12th Infantry (May 14, 1861); commanding 8th Brigade, 3rd Division, Department of Pennsylvania July 1861); brigadier general, USV (September 7, 186 1); commanding 3rd Brigade, Porter’s Division, Army of the Potomac (October 3, 186 I-March 13, 1862); commanding 3rd Brigade, 1st Division, 3rd Corps, Army of the Potomac (March 13-May 18, 1862); commanding 3rd Brigade, 1st Division, 5th Corps, Army of the Potomac (May 18-August 30, 1862); also commanding 1st Brigade (August 30, 1862); commanding the division (November 1-16, 1862); commanding the corps (November 16-December 25, 1862); major general, USV (November 29, 1862); chief of staff, Army of the Potomac January-July 3, 1863); colonel, 5th Infantry July 1, 1863); chief of staff, 11th and 12th Corps, Army of the Cumberland (October 1863-April 14, 1864); and commanding 3rd Division, 20th Corps, Army of the Cumberland (April 14-June 29, 1864).

Brigadier General Butterfield

Butterfield was soon promoted to brigadier general and given command of the Third Brigade of the Fifth Army Corps, Army of the Potomac, which included the Eighty-third Pennsylvania Volunteers. In May 1862, Butterfield led his men at the Battle of Hanover Court House, after which he was presented with a set of gold spurs from admiring officers.  The spurs are engraved “To General Daniel Butterfield.  Presented by Field Officers of the Third Light Brigade, Porters [sic] Division, Army of the Potomac.  For our admiration of your brilliant generalship on the field of Hanover Court House May 27, 1862.”  The spurs were presented to him by Colonel Strong Vincent of the Eighty-third Pennsylvania.

sword and spurs of Daniel Butterfield

In the spring of 1862, Butterfield prepared and printed a manual on camp and outpost duty for infantry.  Published by Harper Brothers, New York, this exhaustive book includes standing orders, extracts from the revised regulations for the Army, rules for health, maxims for soldiers, and duties of officers. You can download the manual below.

1862 Camp and Outpost Duty Daniel Butterfield

Butterfield’s unit took part in a battle at Gaines’ Mill, near Richmond, Virginia, on June 27, 1862.  Despite a serious injury, Butterfield seized the colors of the Eighty-third Pennsylvania and rallied the regiment to hold their ground during a critical time in the battle.  This action allowed the Army of the Potomac to withdraw safely to nearby Harrison’s Landing.  He later received the Medal of Honor for that act of heroism.

Medal of Honor Citation: The President of the United States of America, in the name of Congress, takes pleasure in presenting the Medal of Honor to Brigadier General Daniel Adams Butterfield, United States Army, for extraordinary heroism on 27 June 1862, while serving with U.S. Volunteers, in action at Gaines Mill, Virginia. Brigadier General Butterfield seized the colors of the 83d Pennsylvania Volunteers at a critical moment and, under a galling fire of the enemy, encouraged the depleted ranks to renewed exertion.
General Orders: Date of Issue: September 26, 1892

It was during this time that his association with the bugle call Taps started. Butterfield was no stranger to bugle calls.  He knew their importance and had composed a special unit or prelude call. He had trained his buglers in the use of the unit call; among those was the young bugler of the Eighty-third Pennsylvania, Oliver Willcox Norton.

You can hear the call by clicking here: DAN BUTTERFIELD CALL

Daniel Butterfield is credited with composing Taps and the special prelude call for that brigade which is mentioned in the scene from the movie “Gettysburg” which depicts the One the thing the young Lieutenant gets wrong is singing one too many “Butterfield.” Outside of that the description is accurate. He also goes on to describe Taps as “Butterfield’s Lullaby.”

Following the Peninsular Campaign, Butterfield served at Second Bull Run, at Antietam, and at Marye’s Heights in the Battle of Fredericksburg.  Through political connections and his aptitude for administration, he became a major general and served as chief of staff of the Union Army of the Potomac under Generals Joseph Hooker and George Meade.

While serving on Hooker’s staff, he devised a system of using different shapes for corps badges.  These badges (which were distinctive shapes of color cloth sewn onto uniforms) were used to identify the many units in the U.S. Army. Corps badges first appeared by order of General Philip Kearny after he had mistakenly reprimanded officers from a different command than his. When Hooker assumed command of the Army of the Potomac, he assigned Butterfield to develop the shapes to be used.  Butterfield knew the importance of recognition of units by special identifying marks.  After all, he wrote his own bugle call so he could use it to stop confusion on the battlefield and to identify his troops.  The system he devised was clever in its simplicity. Corps would be identified by shapes including these: a disk for the First Corps, a trefoil for the Second Corps, a lozenge for the Third Corps, a triangle for the Fourth Corps, and a Maltese cross for the Fifth Corps.  The entire system is shown below. (The Maltese cross was chosen by him because of his fondness for the shape, which he had used for medals to decorate his men of the Twelfth N.Y. Militia before the war.)  Divisions would then be identified by the color of the shape.  Red for the First Division, white for the Second, blue for the Third, green for the Fourth, and orange for the Fifth.  The shapes were chosen by Butterfield for, as he wrote, “no reason other than to have some pleasing form or shape, easily and quickly distinguished from others, and capable of aiding in the “esprit de corps” and elevation of the morale and discipline of the army….”  The badges soon proved to be very popular with the army.

Butterfield was severely wounded at Gettysburg on July 3, 1863, by cannon fire that preceded Pickett’s charge, but did not retire from active field service until he fell victim to fever during Sherman’s March to the Sea.  He was reassigned to the western theater.  By war’s end, he was breveted a major general in the regular army and stayed in the army after the Civil War, serving as superintendent of the army’s General Recruiting Service in New York City and colonel of the Fifth U.S. Infantry. While superintendent of the recruiting service, he ordered a board of officers convened to examine a fife and drum music manual (Strube’s Drum and Fife Instructor) for its fitness for adoption by the U.S. Army. This was his Special Orders No. 21 dated Feb. 13, 1869. He also approved this board’s acceptance of the manual and then forwarded it to the Secretary of War, who authorized its use by appropriate units of the U.S. Army. Butterfield’s Special Orders No. 21 is reprinted in this book, since it was authorized by the Secretary of War. So we find that General Daniel Butterfield was involved with military music although this time it’s for the fife and drum. Butterfield was honored by being selected to present the flags of the regiment of New York State troops to the governor of New York at the end of the war. The manual can be downloaded below.

Strube’s Drum and Fife Instructor

After his distinguished military career, Butterfield resigned from the army in 1870 to serve in the Treasury Department under President Ulysses S. Grant.  He later went back to work for the American Express Company and became a prominent businessman.  When his father passed away in 1869, Butterfield cared for the large estate that the family inherited.  He was in charge of a number of special ceremonies, including the funeral of General William Tecumseh Sherman in 1891.  Among his achievements was the building of a railroad in Guatemala, and serving as president of the Albany and Troy Steamboat Company, head of the Butterfield Real Estate Company and president of the National Bank of Cold Spring.

In London, England, on September 21, 1886, Butterfield married Julia Lorillard James of New York. Butterfield’s first wife, whom he married in 1857, died in 1877.


He retired to Cragside, his country home at Cold Spring, New York, overlooking the Hudson River.  The town of Cold Spring got its name from a spring from which George Washington frequently drank.  The home became a place that entertained many foreign dignitaries.  In the evening, Butterfield could hear the West Point bugler sounding Taps just across the river.

Daniel Butterfield in the 1890s

Butterfield died on July 17, 1901, and was buried (by special order of the Secretary of War) in the cemetery at the Military Academy at West Point with full military honors.  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.  Butterfield kept no diary of his Civil War experiences and the only recollections of his military life come from official records, and from speeches and writings made many years after the war.  A Biographical Memorial of General Daniel Butterfield including many Addresses and Military Writings was compiled and edited by his wife Julia and printed by The Grafton Press, New York, in 1904.  Only four hundred copies were printed for private use.


How did Taps 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 use of Taps at a funeral occurred in 1862 during the Peninsular Campaign in Virginia.  Usually, three volleys were fired during a military burial service.  This practice originated in the old custom of halting the fighting to remove the dead from the battlefield.  Once each army had cleared its dead, it would fire three volleys to indicate that deceased soldiers had been cared for and that the army was ready to resume the fight.  The tradition of firing the three volleys at funerals was noted in regulations and manuals.  (In modern-day ceremonies, the fact that the firing party consists of seven riflemen firing three volleys does not constitute a twenty-one gun salute; that is only rendered by cannon firing twenty-one times.)

During the Peninsular Campaign, Captain John C. Tidball of Battery A, Second Artillery, lost a cannoneer who was killed in action.  This soldier then needed to be buried at a time when the battery occupied an advanced position, concealed in the woods.  Since the enemy was close, Tidball realized that it was unsafe to fire the customary volleys over the grave.  He worried that the volleys would renew fighting.  It occurred to Captain Tidball that the sounding of Taps would be the most appropriate ceremony to use as a substitute.  He ordered it to be sounded during the burial.  The practice, thus originated, was taken up throughout the Army of the Potomac, and finally confirmed by orders (Colonel James A. Moss’s Officer’s Manual, published by George Banta Publishing Co., Menasha, Wisconsin, 1913).  Moss also writes that the sounding of Taps may have been inaugurated at West Point about 1840, and it may also have been sounded by certain regiments during the Mexican War.  He could be referring to the use of the 1835 or Scott’s Tattoo call.

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 window, designed by Colonel Eugene Jacob and made by R. Geissler of New York, is based on a painting by Sidney King.  The window was dedicated in 1958 and depicts a bugler and a flag at half staff.  In the painting, a drummer boy stands beside the bugler.  The grandson of that drummer boy purchased Berkeley Plantation, where Harrison’s Landing is located.

Berkeley Plantation was home to more than 100,000 men of the Army of the Potomac for forty-five days during the summer of 1862.  First settled in 1619 by Englishmen, Berkeley acquired its other name from the Harrison family, who built the stately mansion (which still stands) in 1726.  The Harrisons of Berkeley Plantation included Benjamin Harrison and William Henry Harrison.  Benjamin Harrison, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, lived from 1726 to 1791.  Born in Charles City County, Virginia, he was the owner of Berkeley Plantation, where his son William Henry Harrison was born. William Henry (1773-1841) became the ninth President of the United States.  He had a home in North Bend, Ohio, where grandson Benjamin Harrison was born.  This second Benjamin Harrison was the great-grandson of the Benjamin Harrison who signed the Declaration of Independence.  This younger Benjamin Harrison, who lived from 1833 to 1901, became the twenty-third president of the United States.

The Union army came to Harrison’s Landing in July 1862 because of its strategic position on the James River.  Earlier that spring, the army had sailed down the Chesapeake Bay to launch an offensive campaign up the Virginia peninsula in order to capture the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia.  Between June 26 and July 1, 1862, some of the bloodiest fighting of the Civil War occurred as Robert E. Lee and his Army of Northern Virginia fought George McClellan and the Army of the Potomac as it moved toward Richmond in a series of battles known as the Seven Days.  Determined to push the Union army away from Richmond, Lee attacked at Mechanicsville, Gaines’ Mill, Savage’s Station, Frayser’s Farm, and finally at Malvern Hill, where the Confederates were destroyed as they attacked up a long slope toward the Union lines.  Despite winning all but one of the Seven Days battles, McClellan withdrew to Harrison’s Landing to regroup.  Lee fell back to Richmond to rest his troops, but the cost had been terrible: he had suffered 20,000 casualties to McClellan’s 16,000.  At Malvern Hill, a horrified Union colonel looked at the slope where 5,000 Confederate soldiers fell.  He wrote, “Our ears have been filled with agonizing cries from thousands before the fog was lifted, but now our eyes saw five thousand dead or wounded men were on the ground.  A third of them were dead or dying, but enough of them were alive and moving to give the battlefield a singular crawling effect.”

It was under these conditions that the army fell back to the James River. A steady rain that fell turned the roads into knee-deep mud holes.  The rain soon gave way to a very hot sun.  Conditions could not have been worse for this demoralized army as it settled in for an encampment.

On July 8, the Army of the Potomac was paid a visit by its Commander-in-Chief, President Abraham Lincoln.  The president hoped to prod his general into restarting offensive operations.  His visit provided the most stirring spectacle of the army’s stay at Harrison’s Landing: a presidential review of the entire army.  But it failed to get McClellan moving again.

General Butterfield and his Third Brigade were part of the Union army now resting at Berkeley Plantation.  One can only imagine the awful conditions of that hot and humid summer.  Flies, lice, and disease-carrying insects were major problems, along with a shortage of fresh water.  Recovering from a wound suffered at Gaines’ Mill, Butterfield wrote reports praising his personal staff and men for their part in the battles just fought.

The site from which Taps originated is also memorialized; in this case, by a monument located on the grounds of Berkeley Plantation.  This monument to Taps was erected by the Virginia American Legion and dedicated on July 4, 1969.  It is the only known monument built to commemorate the creation of Taps.

The Taps monument at Berkeley Plantation
The Taps monument at Berkeley Plantation

During the early months of 2012, the Taps monument was cleaned and restored. In June 2012 the monument was rededicated in a formal ceremony held at the plantation. In attendance was the great grandson of Oliver Willcox Norton and a relative of Daniel Butterfield.

As with many other customs, the solemn tradition of sounding Taps continues today. Although Daniel Adams Butterfield merely revised an earlier bugle call, his role along with Oliver Willcox Norton in producing those twenty-four notes gives these men a place in the history of music as well as the history of war.

Taps at the grave of Daniel Adams Butterfield
Jari Villanueva, Bugler

©2016 Tapsbugler All Rights reserved


  1. Maurice P. Poliquin Maurice P. Poliquin November 2, 2019

    I did the whole Butterfied piece. Marvelous, as the Civil War was terrible . Thank you for all your deep meaningful articles. I have only scratched the surface of all you know. I am a life time Mainer, and for me, the greatest Mainer shall Allways be Joshua Chamberlain.

  2. Michelle Muhlestein Michelle Muhlestein May 28, 2017

    My name is Michelle Butterfield Muhlestein.. Daniel is a great Uncle of my dad’s. I grew up hearing this story and love it every time I read anything about him.. Thank you for sharing..

  3. ethan ethan March 31, 2016

    i would like some feed back on this website so i can do my presentation this friday

  4. F. Daniels Butterfield F. Daniels Butterfield October 31, 2013

    Having the name Dan Butterfield over the years I have received copies of articles regarding Daniel Butterfield as the originator of taps and the ricipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor for his heroism during the Civil War battle at Gainsville.
    I also learned of his father’s involvement with developing the Butterfield Overland Stage Western U.S. mail service in cooperation with John Wells Eastern U.S. mail service. With John Butterfield’s illness in ’64 he handed over his business to his friend, John Wells, who developed the service into what it is today: Wells Fargo.
    There are some historical groups still aground who have been authenticating much of the information about this Butterfield Legacy. A number of nonfiction books have also contributed to this history. -Dan Butterfield 10-30-13

  5. Janet Askew Janet Askew May 21, 2012

    Thank you for your informative blog. In preparing a quiz regarding Memorial
    Day history your information will be of interest to many who like to learn history
    in a non-threatening setting. And putting it on a CD complete with the 24 notes
    would be great!

  6. charles slater charles slater April 25, 2011

    i would love to get a copy of that on C D so when I do my civil war presentation then I could add that to it and I don!t where to get it can you help me. S G T CHARLIE S U V C W THANK YOU

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