Articles

Here's how 'Taps' got its name

Everyone who has attended a military function or visited a base has heard the "Taps" melody fill the air.


Traditionally performed live on a bugle or trumpet, "Taps" is one of the more popular songs, and one that tends to quiet spectators as they solemnly bow their heads.

But few people know the history behind the song or the patriotic meaning behind the lyrics.

Related: This man honors the military by playing 'Taps' for his neighbors every day

Chief Musician Guy L. Gregg, plays taps during a Memorial Day service at Brookwood American Cemetery. (Photo by MC2 Jennifer L. Jaqua/Released)

According to the VA, present-day "Taps" is believed to be a rendition of the French bugle signal, "Tap Toe" which stems from a Dutch word that means to shut or "tap" a keg. The most noted revision we know today was created by Union Gen. Daniel Butterfield during the American Civil War to alert soldiers to discontinue their drinking and remind them to return to garrison.

In July of 1862, Butterfield thought the original French version "L'Extinction des feux" was too formal and began to hum an adaption to his aide, who then transcribed the music to paper and assigned Oliver W. Norton, the brigade bugler, to play the notes written.

It wasn't until 12 years later when Butterfield's musical creation was made the Army's officially bugle call. By 1891, the Army infantry regulated that "Taps" be played at all military funeral ceremonies moving forward.

Taps' Lyrics:

Day is done, gone the sun,

From the lake, from the hills, from the sky;

All is well, safely rest, God is nigh.

Fading light, dims the sight,

And a star gems the sky, gleaming bright.

From afar, drawing nigh, falls the night.

Thanks and praise, for our days,

'Neath the sun, 'neath the stars, neath the sky;

As we go, this we know, God is nigh.

Sun has set, shadows come,

Time has fled, Scouts must go to their beds

Always true to the promise that they made.

While the light fades from sight,

And the stars gleaming rays softly send,

To thy hands we our souls, Lord, commend.

(United States Navy Band, YouTube)
Today, the historic song is played during flag ceremonies, military funerals, and at dusk as the sun lowers into the horizon during "lights out."
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