(Click here to listen to TAPS.)
Yesterday, the memorial service honoring the fallen at Fort Hood concluded with the playing of Taps. The bugle notes of this melancholy tune always touch me. Today is Veteran's Day, and I found myself thinking about the ceremony yesterday and about Taps. Who wrote that melody? Who penned the lyrics?
Officially known as Butterfield's Lullaby, Taps is also called Day Is Done because of the lyrics of its second verse. It's always played by the U.S. military during flag ceremonies and funerals, usually on a trumpet or bugle.
Rest Of The Story
Though Taps was once thought to have been composed entirely by Union Army Brigadier General Daniel Butterfield, commander of the 3rd Brigade of the 1st Division in the V Army Corps of the Army of the Potomac, that theory was laid to rest in 1977 by Russell H. Booth in his magazine article Butterfield and Taps.
In the article, Booth wrote that an earlier form of the Taps melody, which Booth called Scott Tattoo to differentiate it from several other nineteenth century bugle calls known as Tattoos, was published in musical notation in an American military manual, published in 1835 by Major General Winfield Scott. The Scott Tattoo itself was probably derived from other earlier military bugle calls whose origins have been lost in time.
In any event, General Butterfield, in July 1862 at Harrison's Landing, Virginia, in the midst of the Civil War, wanted a new bugle call. According to Booth's article, he knew General Scott's manual, and he knew how to sound bugle calls so he probably knew what is now being called the Scott Tattoo. History shows that he requested help from a bugler in adjusting the pitch and timing of notes for a new call.
The new song replaced the traditional French bugle call that signaled lights out. Oliver W. Norton, of Erie, Pennsylvania, was Butterfield's bugler and the first to sound the new call. Within months, Taps was used by both the Union and Confederate armies.
Originally, Taps was instrumental only. Over the years, several people have written lyrics to the melody. Of those, I think the first lyrics, written by Horace Lorenzo Trim, fits best. The first line of the second verse gave rise to the other familiar name for Taps, Day Is Done.
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 run
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,
My heart is heavy with sorrow for those lost at Fort Hood last week and for those lost in wars far from home. I knew some of you. I thank all of you for your sacrifice.
For veterans and for those on active duty, may God bless and keep you and your loved ones. Day is done.