It all began in 1862 during the Civil War, when Union Army Captain Robert Ellicombe was with his men near Harrison's Landing in Virginia. The Confederate Army was on the other side of the narrow strip of land.
During the night, Captain Ellicombe heard the moan of a soldier who lay mortally wounded on the field. Not knowing if it was a Union or Confederate soldier, the captain decided to risk his life and bring the stricken man back for medical attention. Crawling on his stomach through the gunfire, the captain reached the stricken soldier and began pulling him toward his encampment. When the captain finally reached his own lines, he discovered it was actually a Confederate soldier, but the soldier was dead.
The captain lit a lantern. Suddenly he caught his breath and went numb with shock. In the dim light, he saw the face of the soldier. It was his own son. The boy had been studying music in the South when the war broke out. Without telling his father, he enlisted in the Confederate Army.
The following morning, heartbroken, the father asked permission of his superiors to give his son a full military burial despite his enemy status. His request was partially granted. The captain had asked if he could have a group of Army band members play a funeral dirge of the son at the funeral.
That request was turned down since the soldier was a confederate. Out of respect for the father, they did say they could give him only one musician. The captain chose a bugler. He asked the bugler to play a series of musical notes he found on a piece of paper in the pocket of the dead youth's uniform. This wish was granted.
This music was the haunting melody we now know as "Taps" used at military funerals.
Information provided by Lt. Colonel Lewis Kirkpatrict, AUS (Ret) ROA Department of Europe editor; contained in the Reserve Officers Association "The Officer" magazine, May 98 issue.
This information was received via email and may not be valid, but it is a touching story.
The lyrics are:
Day is done
Gone the sun
From the lakes
From the hills
From the sky
All is well,
God is nigh.
Dims the sight
And a star
Gems the sky,
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.
The following information came to me after this page was created. Regardless of which story is correct, "Taps" continues to have a very meaningful place in our military.
"TAPS is the most beautiful bugle call. Played slowly and softly, it has a smooth, tender and touching character. The bugle call was written during the Peninsula Campaign of the Civil War by General Butterfield, with an assist from his bugler, Oliver W. Norton, in 1862.
"TAPS" went on from its origin as an alternative to "Lights Out" to become not only a signal that day was done, but also to say good-bye to a fallen comrade.
"TAPS" is customarily played at funerals at Arlington national Cemetery as well as at ceremonies at the Tomb of the Unknowns there.
Its composer is buried in the Post Cemetery at the United States Military Academy at West Point (even though he did not graduate from the Academy).