POST-GAZETTE - Res Publica
The Story of Taps
by David Trumbull -- May 24, 2013
This Memorial Day we remember and honor the men and women who died to preserve our freedom. Even as we enjoy kicking off summer however we chose this weekend, that is itself a testimony to their sacrifices, for we enjoy the cookouts, trips to the beach, and so forth because they made it possible. We especially honor those who died for our country when we decorate their graves or participant in patriotic parades and ceremonies this weekend.
At those solemn memorial events in our towns and cities, in our churches and synagogues, and in the halls of our veterans or other lodges, a familiar, haunting melody will mark the day --
The familiar bugle call "Taps" is generally believed to be based on a traditional French call to curfew (from Middle English "curfeu," from Old French "cuevrefeu," meaning cover the fire and turn in for the night).
According to the United States Department of Veterans Affairs the version of those 24 melancholy notes that we know from military funerals was crafted during America's Civil War by Union General Daniel Adams Butterfield, heading a brigade camped at Harrison Landing, Va., near Richmond. This music was made the official Army bugle call after the war, but not given the name "taps" until 1874.
The same Veterans Affair internet resource, http://www1.va.gov/opa/publications/celebrate/taps.pdf, states that: "The first time taps was played at a military funeral may also have been in Virginia soon after Butterfield composed it. Union Capt. John Tidball, head of an artillery battery, ordered it played for the burial of a cannoneer killed in action. Not wanting to reveal the battery’s position in the woods to the enemy nearby, Tidball substituted taps for the traditional three rifle volleys fired over the grave. Taps was played at the funeral of Confederate Gen. Stonewall Jackson 10 months after it was composed. Army infantry regulations by 1891 required taps to be played at military funeral ceremonies."
Taps now is played by the military at burial and memorial services, to accompany the lowering of the flag, and to signal the "lights out" command at day's end.