The Story Behind "Taps"

The following is thru the courtesy of Cavalier Chuck Agustin, USNA '59.
Commo. Agustin is the President of NDCP and Chairman of PMAAAI.
Thank you,  Chuck, for this very touching and enlightening story:


If you graduated in the late '60s or later, you probably do not know that the US military services bugle call "TAPS", used to sound the last call of the day to signal "lights out" as well as the last call during the interment for a military man, had been in use in the AFP until the mid-'60s when we got new bugle notes for all calls from reveille to taps.

The US versions of reveille, first call, attention call, assembly, class call, mess call, recall, call to quarters, tattoo and taps many of us will never forget. They are part and parcel of our memories of Camp Henry T Allen (for cadets of the SCO PC, the PCA and pre-1950 PMA), Polo Fields (for Classes 1951 to 1959, then the PMA Plebe Summer Camp) and the CCAFP of the early '60s.

I can picture Polo Field, then so lush and lovely. orderly and well managed, with plebes of the New Cadet Company in April/March marching from the squad tent-lined company street to the quonset hut mess hall, led by a drum and bugle team of 4 sharp EP, still untouched by yearning yearlings who thought the plebes were so raw and needing immaculate attention

A classmate, Pat Cecil, passed this on and some of you might be interested to hear about this backgrounder or story on the TAPS bugle call. I am not certain as to its veracity

Chuck Agustin'59
C-1693 "Go Charlie"


" We have all heard the haunting song, "Taps." It's the song that gives us that lump in our throats; But, do you know the story behind the song? If not, I think you will be pleased to find out about it's humble beginnings. Reportedly, it all began in 1862 during the Civil War, when Union Army Captain Robert Ellicombe was with his men near Harrison's Landing in Virginia. The Confederate Army was on the other side of the narrow strip o land. During the night, Captain Ellicombe heard the moans of a soldier who lay severly wounded on the field. Not knowing if it was a Union or Confederate soldier, the Captain decided to risk his life and bring the stricken man back for medical attention. Crawling on his stomach through the gunfire, the Captain reached the stricken soldier and began pulling him toward his encampment. When the Captain finally reached his own lines, he discovered it was actually a Confederate soldier, but the soldier was dead. The Captain lit a lantern and suddenly caught his breath and went numb with shock.  In the dim light, he saw the face of the soldier. It was his own son. The boy had been studying music in the south when the war broke out.; Without telling his father, the boy enlisted in the Confederate Army. The following morning, heartbroken, the father asked permission of his superiors to give his son a full military burial despite his enemy status. His request was only partially granted. The Captain had asked if he  could have a group of Army band members play a funeral dirge for his son at the funeral. The request was turned down since the soldier was a Confederate. But, out of respect for the father, they did say they could give him only one musician. The Captain chose a bugler. He asked the bugler to play a series of musical notes he had found on a piece of paper in the pocket of the dead youth's uniform. This wish was granted. The haunting melody, we now know as "Taps" used at military funerals, was born.

[Click for Taps]
Day is done
Gone the sun
From the Lakes
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.

I too, have felt the chills while listening to "Taps" but I have never seen all the words to the song until now. I didn't even know there was more than one verse. I also never knew the story behind the song and I didn't know if you had either so I thought I'd pass it along. I now have an even deeper respect for the song than I did before."

I don't like to dampen your spirit but there is another version of the origin of taps. "Taps" is thought to be a revision of the French bugle signal called "tattoo". that notified soldiers to cease an evening drinking and return to their garrisons. It was sounded an hour before the final bugle call to end the day by extinguishing fires and lights. The last five measures of tattoo resemble taps. The word "taps" is an alteration of the obsolete word "taptoo" derived from the Dutch "taptoe." - to shut ("toe to") the "tap" of a keg. The present-day "Taps" (a derivative of tattoo) was made (yes) during the Civil War by Union Gen. Daniel Adams Butterfield. [source:FMA Website].
I still prefer the romantic first version from Cav Chuck. Don't you?

arrow [Back to Memorial]