the origin of the bugle song "taps" -- 7/13/16

Today's selection -- from On Hallowed Ground by Robert M. Poole. The origin of the bugle song "Taps":

"One of the lasting legacies of that muddy summer [of Civil War fighting in 1862] was the soldier's lullaby we know today as Taps. Though details of its origins differ, the song is usually credited to Brig. Gen. Daniel A. Butterfield, a New Yorker commanding the 3rd Brigade of the Union's 5th Army Corps. As McClellan retreated and But­terfield gathered his men in camp on the James River, he grew irritated at the army's standard lights-out tune known as 'Scott's Tattoo,' named for the for­mer army chief Winfield Scott and in use since 1835. It signaled soldiers to prepare for the day's final roll call. Butterfield found the tune too harsh, 'nor as smooth, melodious and musical as it should be.' So in July of 1862, he sum­moned Oliver W. Norton, his twenty-three-year-old bugler, and asked him to make changes in the song as the brigadier listened. Freely admitting that he could neither read nor write music, Butterfield made his alterations by ear, put­ting his bugler through the paces until the tune sounded right. Norton took up the story:

After getting it to his satisfaction, he directed me to sound that call for Taps there-after in place of the regulation call. The music was beautiful on that still summer night, and was heard far beyond the limits of our Brigade. The next day I was vis­ited by several buglers from neighboring Brigades, asking for copies of the music which I gladly furnished.

Brigadier General Daniel Butterfield

"Thus was born the famous twenty-four-note call, known as 'Butterfield's Lullaby' or Taps, which spread throughout the Union Army, crossed enemy lines, and was entered in the Confederate Mounted Artillery Drill manual by 1863. The new tune was first adapted as a funeral song in the summer of the Peninsula Campaign. As opposing armies exchanged artillery fire near Harri­son's Landing, an unknown Union cannoneer was killed that July. Comrades prepared to bury him and fire the customary three-volley salute at graveside. But with enemies in such close proximity, Capt. John C. Tidball of Battery A, 2nd Union Artillery, feared that an outburst of musketry at close quarters might trigger more bloodshed. So he called for his bugler and asked him to sound a soothing new lights-out tune known as Taps, which seemed a fitting farewell gesture -- and the first recorded instance of the melody being played over a soldier's grave. The practice caught on at funerals and spread informally through the Army, but it took decades for the song to become official -- it appears in the U.S. Army Infantry Drill Regulations for the first time in 1891."


Robert M. Poole


On Hallowed Ground: The Story of Arlington National Cemetery


Bloomsbury USA


Copyright Robert Poole, 2009


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