By Guest Author
There has been a beautiful story circulating the Internet about the story behind the song Taps. Unfortunately as beautiful as this story is there is very little truth to it. According to the story a Union Officer, Captain Robert Ellicombe, risked his life to save another and had no idea if he was a Union or Confederate soldier. Only after dragging him back to his lines did he discover that he was dead and that it was his son. However there is no record of an officer with that name serving there at the time.
This version has its beginning from the web site http://freepages.music.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~edgmon/cwtaps.htm
There are various stories about the beginning of the original tune.
One story says that Taps is actually adapted from the French "Tatoo" which in French means "Extinguish Lights", which was used in the U.S. from 1835 until 1860. Contrary to Legend, the tune of taps was adapted by Union General Dan Butterfield of Utica NY in 1862 during the Civil War. However family history says the song was actually written by a confederate, Milton Butterfield, who was a relative of General Dan Butterfield. Supposedly he gave the song written on the back of an envelope during a truce in the
war. Bugler Oliver Wilcox Norton confirms that fact in a letter he wrote to the newspaper in 1898 saying that he had received the tune written on a back on an envelope.
The newspaper, in order to confirm the story, wrote back to General Dan Butterfield. A portion of his answer is as follows, and I quote.
"I had composed a call for my brigade, to precede any calls, indicating that such were calls, or orders, for my brigade alone. The call of Taps did not seem to be as smooth, melodious and musical as it should be, and I called in some one who could write music, and practiced a change in the call of Taps until I had it suit my ear, and then, as Norton writes, got it to my taste without being able to write music or knowing the technical name of any note, but, simply by ear, arranged it as Norton describes."
Now, prior to all this, it was customary to fire rifle volleys at the graveside of
fallen soldier or sailor. Union officers were worried that the gunshots would set off the Confederate soldiers and start another attack. So in place of the rifle volley they substituted Taps. This was the beginning to our having taps played at military funerals. Taps was used by the Confederates as well as the Union. Words to the song are as follows.
Day is done, gone the sun
from the hills, from the lake,
from the skies.
All is well, safely rest,
God is nigh.
Go to sleep, peaceful sleep,
May the soldier or sailor,
On the land or the deep,
Safe in sleep.