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Taps

A bugler from the U.S. Army Band.  Click to hear 'Taps'

Lyrics:

The original version was purely instrumental, but there have been several later lyrics added. The first, written by Horace Lorenzo Trim, is shown below:

Fading light dims the sight
And a star gems the sky, gleaming bright
From afar drawing nigh,
Falls the night.

Day is done, gone the sun
From the lakes, from the hills, from the skies
All is well, safely rest;
God is nigh.

Then goodnight, peaceful night;
Till the light of the dawn shineth bright.
God is near, do not fear,
Friend, goodnight.

The other popular version, penned and harmonized by famed composer Josef Pasternack, is:

Love, sweet dreams!
Lo, the beams of the light Fairy moon kissed the streams,
Love, Goodnight!
Ah so soon!
Peaceful dreams!

Another set of lyrics, used in a recording made by John Wayne about the song, is:

Fading light
Falling night
Trumpet call, as the sun, sinks in fright
Sleep in peace, comrades dear,
God is near.

Many Scouting Groups around the world sing the second verse of Taps ("Day is Done..") at the close of a camp or campfire. It is often referred to as Vespers meaning evening prayer.

Origin of "Taps"

Union Army Brigadier General Daniel Butterfield summoned Pvt. Oliver Wilcox Norton, his brigade bugler, to his tent. Butterfield, who disliked the colorless "extinguish lights" call then in use, whistled a new tune and asked the bugler to sound it for him. After repeated trials and changing the time of some notes which were scribbled on the back of an envelope, the call was finally arranged to suit Gen. Butterfield and used for the first time that night. Pvt. Norton, who on several occasions, had sounded numerous new calls composed by his commander, recalled his experience of the origin of "Taps" years later:

"One day in July 1862 when the Army of the Potomac was in camp at Harrison's Landing on the James River, Virginia, resting and recruiting from its losses in the seven days of battle before Richmond, Gen. Butterfield summoned the writer to his tent, and whistling some new tune, asked the bugler to sound it for him. This was done, not quite to his satisfaction at first, but after repeated trials, changing the time of some of the notes, which were scribbled on the back of an envelope, the call was finally arranged to suit the general.

"He then ordered that it should be substituted in his brigade for the regulation "Taps" (extinguish lights) which was printed in the Tactics and used by the whole army. This was done for the first time that night. The next day buglers from nearby brigades came over to the camp of Butterfield's brigade to ask the meaning of this new call. They liked it, and copying the music, returned to their camps, but it was not until some time later, when generals of other commands had heard its melodious notes, that orders were issued, or permission given, to substitute it throughout the Army of the Potomac for the time-honored call which came down from West Point.

Oliver Willcox Norton and General Butterfield at
Harrison's Landing, July 1862

In the western armies the regulation call was in use until the autumn of 1863. At that time the XI and XII Corps were detached from the Army of the Potomac and sent under command of Gen. Hooker to reinforce the Union Army at Chattanooga, Tenn. Through its use in these corps it became known in the western armies and was adopted by them. From that time, it became and remains to this day the official call for "Taps." It is printed in the present Tactics and is used throughout the U.S. Army, the National Guard, and all organizations of veteran soldiers.

Gen. Butterfield, in composing this call and directing that it be used for "Taps" in his brigade, could not have foreseen its popularity and the use for another purpose into which it would grow. Today, whenever a man is buried with military honors anywhere in the United States, the ceremony is concluded by firing three volleys of musketry over the grave, and sounding with the trumpet or bugle "Put out the lights. Go to sleep"...There is something singularly beautiful and appropriate in the music of this wonderful call. Its strains are melancholy, yet full of rest and peace. Its echoes linger in the heart long after its tones have ceased to vibrate in the air."

This 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, made by R. Geissler of New York and based on a painting by Sidney King, was dedicated in 1958 and shows a bugler and a flag at half staff. In that picture a drummer boy stands beside the bugler. The grandson of that drummer boy purchased Berkeley Plantation where Harrisons Landing is located. The site where Taps was born is also commemorated. 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. The site is also rich in history, for the Harrisons of Berkeley Plantation included Benjamin Harrison and William Henry Harrison, both presidents of the United States as well as Benjamin Harrison (father and Great grandfather of future presidents), a signer of the Declaration of Independence.

The Taps window at Ft. Monroe

The Taps monument at Berkeley Plantation
 

 

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