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The Taps Myth

Here is yet another story as to the Origin of Taps, If anyone could provide anymore information please contact me by clicking here: email address

Almost every family has some tale or legend handed down through the generations. Many, on investigating, prove to be based on a little truth and fact, but colored by each succeeding generation, until only a kernel of truth remains. Others are well documented and adhere pretty closely to the basic facts. It usually turns out that the tale with no documentation will bring defenders of this legend storming forth to attempt to attest to the veracity of family members, and at your peril will you take a stand in opposition.

This attitude I know for a fact, as I dared to question one such family tale and almost lost all family contact with aunts and uncles. I first heard the family legend about which I write from my grandfather and later from my mother. To better understand the family “legend”, I will give a short background.

My grandfather was born in Troy, Alabama in 1850. His parents were Milton M. Butterfield and his wife, Martha Maria Batchelder, both “born and bred Yankees.” He was from Olcott, New York and she was born in New Hampshire. According to Martha’s journal in 1846 she accepted a teaching position in Lowndsboro County, Alabama. Due to her health, she could not tolerate the cold climate of northern winters.

At the completion of the school year, she returned to the north via a boat on the Alabama River to Benton, Alabama, and on to Mobile, where she boarded another boat to New Orleans. She then boarded the Alexander Scott Mississippi River Boat for the trip to Cincinnati. She traveled on to Sandusky, Ohio by over-land stage, and concluded her trip in Springfield, Massachusetts, via the Erie Canal Boat, about which she had little in the way of compliments to report. In fact the less said the better.

She was married to Milton Butterfield September 22, 1847 in Nashua, New Hampshire. In 1849, once more, due to Martha’s health, the move was made to Alabama. They settled in Troy, Alabama until the purchase of land in Macon County (Now Bullock County) was completed and a school
constructed. Both Martha and Milton were teachers. In addition to teaching math, science, history and government, Milton taught music, as he was an accomplished musician. Martha taught French, Latin, English literature and geography. The school was successful and continued in operation until the outbreak of the War Between the States.

Milton and his younger brother, Frank, joined the Confederacy by enlisting in the Alabama 23rd Infantry, Company G. Milton received promotions and rose to the rank of Captain. The Company was sent to the defense of Vicksburg, serving in Lee’s Brigade, Stevenson’s Division. This unit was under the command of Col. F.K. Beck and Capt. A.C. Robard of the 3rd Brigade. When Vicksburg fell to the Union Army, Milton’s group was among the troops released by Grant who were not required to sign their parole, thus making it possible to return honorably to the Confederate forces.

Milton stopped at his home in Union Springs, Alabama, prior to returning to the Confederate Army. While at home, among the tales he told his family of the fall of Vicksburg, was the one of the “burial music.” It seems the men serving with him, felt there should be more of a service when they had to bury one of their companions. They asked Milton to play something on his “horn” when they buried a companion. Milton demonstrated to the family the few simple notes he had composed for his men’s burial service. Those few simple notes were the notes we hear today at all military funerals known as “Taps.”

When Milton rejoined his troops he was sent to Chickamauga, Tennessee to serve as Clerk of the Court-martial Court. In a letter written to his family, he reported that while he was at this post, a relative of his, General Daniel Butterfield of the Union Army was also in Chickamauga inspecting the Union Forces. Under a Flag of Truce, he visited his relative. During their conversation Milton told of composing the “burial music,” and since General Butterfield was quite interested, he wrote down the simple notes on the back of an envelope and gave it to the General.

As a child, I was interested in anything my grandfather told me of his earlier life. This story of the “burial music” fascinated me. Many years later I was looking for some information in the Encyclopedia Britannica and came across a short biographical sketch of General Butterfield and learned that he was credited with composing “Taps.” By this time my grandfather and all of his children were dead, and there was no one left for me to consult about our family legend.

I rather doubt that my grandfather ever read an article about the good General or had any desire to check on the “burial music.” He was 13 years of age when his father visited home following Vicksburg, and remembered well all the family activities and conversations with his father, as that was the last time he saw his father.

Milton was attached to a scouting party during the Siege of Atlanta, and was killed and buried at Stone Mountain, Georgia. Martha made her home
with my grandfather and his family following the close of the War. After her death, the family moved to Birmingham, Alabama. Prior to Martha’s death, letters, which should have been saved, were discarded, including the letter from Chickamauga. And so, there is no proof that my great grandfather’s life other than records of his military service.

I have no documentation, diary, letters, etc to use as proof of the “burial music” being “Taps” as we know it today. And so I can only tell you this family legend and let your own imagination decide whether it is FACT or FICTION.


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  1. Tapsbugler Tapsbugler Post author | January 27, 2020

    Thanks Keith!

  2. Keith Sisco Keith Sisco January 27, 2020

    Jari is abosolutley correct! This second account of ‘Taps” is completely false. While it may make for a good emotional read, it is utter nonsense.
    I played in a Civil War reneactment band that (at the time) I was principal musician. Part of the playing was also presenting histories of the music, instruments, battles, soldiers life, and I was very fond of talking about ‘Taps’. Oliver Willcox Norton and Gen. Butterfield wrote of their experiences in the Civil War. They created ‘Taps’, and it has grown to be an honored tradtion-Elliscombe has not even been shown to EVER really existed. Carry on….

  3. Jeffery Barbour Jeffery Barbour June 7, 2019

    My First Patriot Guard Mission, I heard the digital bugle. It sucked. I had not played my trumpet since the 10th grade in 1974. I was encouraged to pick it up and play again. I bought a bugle at the Endview Plantation in Newport News VA. Since I have been playing TAPS for grave dedications and memorials. I’ll play till my lungs will no longer allow it. (20+ years Fire Department related exposure). I was at the 150th at the Berkeley Plantation. A great inspiration.

  4. DON HEAD DON HEAD May 23, 2019

    It may be an excellent example of fiction, but I would suggest it does not claim to have ‘composed’ “Taps”…only that the captain discovered the ‘notes’ on a piece of paper in the boy’s pocket. Oh well, I still can’t hear it without tearing up every time!

  5. D Marshall D Marshall March 12, 2017

    My son is in marching and concert band as well as Orchestra. He plays most brass instruments to include bugle. he wants to know the significance of the cord or braid found on many of the bugles. He is also in Boy Scouts and AFROTC and wants an appropriate cord to put on his bugle. Thank you

  6. Meg Meg April 24, 2016

    Jari–hopefully we did Taps justice in Aftermath of Battle. I certainly tried!! I have had a difficult time finding a recording of Extinguish Lights. Is there other than the young lady who plays bugle on the YouTube offering, if that is even it? Thanks, Meg

  7. Ropedrum Ropedrum January 30, 2015

    For a historically accurate and fitting arrangement for performance see, “Extinguish Lights” (or Taps) on page 38 of The Bugler’s Call Book under the heading: Cavalry Calls, contained in the back of Elias Howe’s United States Regulation Drum and Fife Instructor published in 1861.

    Most assuredly “Taps” was not a Confederate music composition.

  8. Tapsbugler Tapsbugler Post author | November 13, 2014

    No one said it did….

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