When I hear "Taps" played at funerals or military bases at the end of the day, it makes one stop and remember all the sacrifices generations have made to let us live free. I'm glad Cathy Meskel is playing "Taps" every day, but I want to set the record straight about the origin of "Taps."
Taps began as a revision to the signal for extinguish lights (lights out) at the end of the day. Up until the Civil War, the infantry call for extinguish lights was the one set down in Silas Casey's (1801-1882) Tactics, which had been borrowed from the French. The music for "Taps" was adapted by Union General Daniel Butterfield for his brigade (Third Brigade, First Division, Fifth Army Corps, Army of the Potomac) in July 1862.
As the story goes, General Butterfield was not pleased with the call for extinguish lights, feeling that the call was too formal to signal the day's end, and with the help of the brigade bugler, Oliver Willcox Norton, wrote "Taps" to honor his men while in camp at Harrison's Landing, Va., following the Seven Day's battle. These battles took place during the Peninsular Campaign of 1862. The call, sounded that night in July 1862, soon spread to other units of the Union Army and was even used by the Confederates. "Taps" was made an official bugle call after the war.
The highly romantic account of how Butterfield composed the call surfaced in 1898 following a Century Magazine article written that summer.
On the surface, this seems to be the true history of the origin of Taps. Indeed, the many articles written about Taps cite this story as the beginning of Butterfield's association with the call. Certainly, Butterfield never went out of his way to claim credit for its composition and it wasn't until the Century article that the origin came to light.
There are, however, significant differences in Butterfield's and Norton's stories. It may be that Butterfield did not compose "Taps" but actually revised an earlier bugle call. This sounds blasphemous to many, but the fact is that "Taps" existed in an early version of the call "Tattoo."
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 hills, from the lake,
From the sky.
All is well, safely rest,
God is nigh.
Go to sleep, peaceful sleep,
May the soldier or sailor,
On the land or the deep,
Safe in sleep.
Love, good night, Must thou go,
When the day, And the night
Need thee so?
All is well. Speedeth all
To their rest.
Fades the light; And afar
Goeth day, And the stars
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.