"Taps" is a bugle call played at dusk, during flag ceremonies, and at
military funerals by the United States armed forces. The official
military version is played by a single bugle or trumpet, although
other versions of the tune may be played in other contexts (e.g., the
U.S. Marine Corps
U.S. Marine Corps Ceremonial Music site has recordings of two bugle
and one band version). It is also performed often at Boy Scout,
Girl Scout, and
Girl Guide meetings and camps. The tune is also
sometimes known as "Butterfield's Lullaby", or by the first line of
the lyric, "Day Is Done". The duration may vary to some extent; the
typical recording below is 59 seconds long.
3 Melody and lyrics
5 Non-military variants
Taps and Silver Taps
6 See also
8 External links
"Taps" is derived from the same source as "Tattoo".
"Taps" originates from the Dutch taptoe, meaning "close the (beer)
taps (and send the troops back to camp)". An alternative explanation,
however, is that it carried over from a term already in use before the
American Civil War. Three single, slow drum beats were struck after
the sounding of the Tattoo or "Extinguish Lights". This signal was
known as the "Drum Taps", "The Taps", or simply as "Taps" in soldier's
Brigadier General Daniel Butterfield
The tune is a variation of an earlier bugle call known as the "Scott
Tattoo", which was used in the U.S. from 1835 until 1860, and
was arranged in its present form by the Union
Army Brigadier General
Daniel Butterfield, an
American Civil War
American Civil War general and Medal of Honor
recipient who commanded the 3rd Brigade of the 1st Division in the V
Army Corps of the
Army of the Potomac while at Harrison's Landing,
Virginia, in July 1862 to replace a previous French bugle call used to
signal "lights out". Butterfield's bugler, Oliver Wilcox Norton, of
East Springfield, Pennsylvania, was the first to sound the new
call. Within months "Taps" was used by both Union and Confederate
forces. It was officially recognized by the United States
"Taps" concludes many military funerals conducted with honors at
Arlington National Cemetery
Arlington National Cemetery and elsewhere in the United States.
The tune is also sounded at many memorial services in Arlington's
Memorial Amphitheater and at grave sites throughout the cemetery.
Captain John Francis Tidball, West Point Class of 1848, started the
custom of playing "Taps" at military funerals. In early July 1862 at
Harrison's Landing, a corporal of Tidball's Battery A, 2nd U. S..
Artillery, died. He was, Tidball recalled later, "a most excellent
man". Tidball wished to bury him with full military honors, but, for
military reasons, he was refused permission to fire three guns over
the grave. Tidball later wrote, "The thought suggested itself to me to
sound taps instead, which I did. The idea was taken up by others,
until in a short time it was adopted by the entire army and is now
looked upon as the most appropriate and touching part of a military
funeral." As Tidball proudly proclaimed, "Battery A has the honor of
having introduced this custom into the service, and it is worthy of
It became a standard component to U.S. military funerals in 1891.
"Taps" is sounded during each of the military wreath ceremonies
conducted at the
Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
Tomb of the Unknown Soldier every year, including the
ones held on Memorial Day. The ceremonies are viewed by many people,
including veterans, school groups, and foreign officials. "Taps" also
is sounded nightly in military installations at non-deployed locations
to indicate that it is "lights out", and often by Boy Scouts, Girl
Girl Guides to mark the end of an evening event such as a
Melody and lyrics
The melody of "Taps" is composed entirely from the written notes of
C major triad (i.e., C, E, and G, with the G used in the lower and
higher octaves). This is because the bugle, for which it is written,
can play only the notes in the harmonic series of the instrument's
fundamental tone; a B-flat bugle thus plays the notes B-flat, D, and
F. "Taps" uses the third, fourth, fifth, and sixth partials.
Taps in C
"Taps" is a bugle call - a signal, not a song. As such, there is no
associated lyric. Many bugle calls had words associated with them as a
mnemonic device but these are not lyrics. A Horace Lorenzo Trim wrote
a set of words intended to accompany the music:
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.
Several later lyrical adaptations have been created.
There are several legends concerning the origin of "Taps". The most
widely circulated one states that a Union
Army infantry officer, whose
name often is given as Captain Robert Ellicombe, first ordered "Taps"
performed at the funeral of his son, a Confederate soldier killed
during the Peninsula Campaign. This apocryphal story
claims that Ellicombe found the tune in the pocket of his son's
clothing and performed it to honor his memory, but there is no record
of any man named Robert Ellicombe holding a commission as captain in
Army of the Potomac during the Peninsula Campaign.
Daniel Butterfield composed "Taps" has been sworn to by numerous
reputable witnesses including his bugler Norton, who first
performed the tune. While scholars continue to debate whether or not
the tune was original or based on an earlier melody, few researchers
doubt that Butterfield is responsible for the current tune.
Another, perhaps more historically verifiable, account of "Taps" first
being used in the context of a military funeral involves John C.
Tidball, a Union artillery captain who during a break in fighting
ordered the tune sounded for a deceased soldier in lieu of the more
traditional—and much less discreet—three volley tribute.
James A. Moss, in an Officer's Manual initially published in 1911,
reports the following:
Peninsula Campaign in 1862, a soldier of Tidball's Battery
A of the 2nd Artillery was buried at a time when the battery occupied
an advanced position concealed in the woods. It was not safe to fire
the customary three volleys over the grave, on account of the
proximity of the enemy, and it occurred to Capt. Tidball that the
Taps would be the most appropriate ceremony that could be
While not necessarily addressing the origin of the "Taps", this does
represent the first recorded instance of "Taps" being sounded as part
of a military funeral. Until then, while the tune had meant that the
soldiers' day of work was finished, it had little to none of the
connotation or overtone of death, with which it so often is associated
Another lesser-known legend is that of Lieutenant William Waid paying
saloon-keepers to shut off the taps to the kegs when the song was
played in a neighboring army camp. Lt. Waid's name has not been found
in Union or Confederate records.
Although primarily used within the military, several local or special
variations of the tune are performed, primarily by organizations such
Boy Scouts of America
Boy Scouts of America or American military schools. It is also
played all over the world in remembrance of the dead.
Taps and Silver Taps
Taps or Silver
Taps is a tradition in which "Taps" is played at
American military schools—such as Norwich University, Texas A&M
University, New Mexico Military Institute, The Citadel, and Virginia
Tech—when a member or former member of a school's corps of cadets is
killed in action. Echo
Taps ceremonies involve some arrangement of
"Taps" for two buglers, playing antiphonally to represent both the
cadet's branch of service and their college. Silver
may use such an arrangement, or some other version for two or more
At Norwich University, the ceremony is held on the Upper Parade
Ground, where the Corps of Cadets forms up silently at 2145
(9:45 p.m.) for tattoo, and then stands in silence until 2200
(10:00 p.m.) when "Echo Taps" is sounded, at which time unit
commanders tacitly will give the commands of attention and present
arms. The regimental bugler stands either near the flagpole in front
of Jackman Hall or on Jackman's balcony and plays the main tune of
"Taps". The echoing bugler will stand on the steps of Dewey Hall
facing the Parade Ground and echo each series of notes. Following the
sounding of "Taps", the Corps of Cadets dismisses in silence.
At Texas A&M, Echo
Taps is held on the Corps of Cadets Quad at
10:30p.m. For the ceremony, the Corps falls out and both students and
cadets gather to form around the Quad. A bugler is posted at the
megaphone on the south end and another is at the arches on the north
end. Cadets salute and the bugler on the south end plays the first
three notes of Silver Taps, the bugler on the north end echoes, the
bugler on the south end plays the next three notes and is echoed for
the rest of the song. Cadets and students then return to their dorms.
By far, one of Texas A&M's most honored traditions is Silver Taps.
Taps is the student body's final tribute paid to an Aggie who,
at the time of their death, was enrolled in undergraduate or graduate
studies. This final tribute is held the first Tuesday of the month
when a student has died the previous month. The first Silver
held in 1898 and honored Lawrence Sullivan Ross, the former governor
of Texas and president of A&M College. Silver
Taps is currently
held in the Academic Plaza. On the day of Silver Taps, a small card
with the deceased student's name, class, major, and date of birth is
placed as a notice at the base of the academic flagpole, in addition
to the memorial located behind the flagpole. The A&M student
newspaper, The Battalion, dedicates their Tuesday issue on a Silver
Taps day to sharing stories of who the deceased students were. Around
10:15 that night, the lights are extinguished and hymns chime from
Albritton Tower. Students silently gather at the statue of Lawrence
Sullivan Ross. At 10:30p.m., the Ross Volunteer Firing Squad marches
into the plaza and fires three rifle volleys totaling 21 shots fired.
Six buglers then play a special rendition of Silver
Taps by Colonel
Richard Dunn (Aggie Band Director, 1924-1946).
Taps is played three
times from the dome of the Academic Building: once to the North,
South, and West. It is not played to the East because the sun will
never rise on that Aggie again. After the buglers play, the students
silently return to their homes. Students return to their dorms, and
lights remain extinguished until
Reveille the next morning.
At New Mexico Military Institute, "Echo Taps" (otherwise known as
"Silver Taps") is played by three trumpets on a night designated by
the alumni association. This ceremony is held in the Hagerman Barracks
to remember all the alumni who had died of normal causes or killed in
action that year. This ceremony also includes the lighting and
extinguishing of a candle for every alumni of the year. One bugler is
posted at the north, south, and west side of the barracks and the
candles at the east. After this early "Taps", complete silence marks
the rest of the night.
Army Regulation 220-90,
Army Bands dated December 2007, Paragraph
2-5h(1) states the following: "'Echo Taps' or 'Silver Taps', the
practice of performing 'Taps' with multiple buglers, is not
authorized. 'Echo Taps' is not a part of
Army tradition and improperly
uses bugler assets."
Army Regulation 600-25, Salutes, Honors, and Visits of Courtesy, dated
September 2004, Glossary, Section two states the following: "
traditional 'lights out' musical composition played at military
funerals and memorials. The official version of 'Taps' is played by a
single bugle. In accordance with AR 220–90, 'Echo or Silver Taps',
which is performed by two buglers, is not authorized."
Field Manual 12-50, U.S.
Army Bands, dated October 1999, Appendix A,
Official And Ceremonial Music, Appendix A, Section 1 – Ceremonial
Music, Paragraph A-35 "A-35. Signals that unauthorized lights are to
be extinguished. This is the last call of the day. The call is also
sounded at the completion of a military funeral ceremony.
Taps is to
be performed by a single bugler only. Performance of 'Silver Taps' or
'Echo Taps' is not consistent with
Army traditions, and is an improper
use of bugler assets."
Scouting and Guiding groups around the world sing the first verse
of "Taps" ("Day is Done...") at the close of a camp or campfire.
Scouts in encampment may also have the unit's bugler sound taps once
the rest of the unit has turned in, to signify that the day's
activities have concluded and that silence is expected in the
Military of the United States portal
Keith Clark, U.S.
Army bugler who played "Taps" at the funeral of
President John F. Kennedy
"Ich hatt' einen Kameraden" ("I had a comrade"), the German and
Austrian equivalent for military funerals
"Il Silenzio" ("Silence"), the Dutch equivalent (with Italian lyrics)
"La muerte no es el final" ("Death is not the end"), the Spanish
""La sonnerie aux morts", the
French Armed Forces
French Armed Forces equivalent
"Last Post", Commonwealth of Nations
"Reveille", the bugle call sounded at sunrise
"Taptoe", The Dutch equivalent
^ "Ceremonial music. Links to two bugle versions and a band version of
'Taps'". U.S. Marines.
Villanueva, Jari A. "24 Notes That Tap Deep Emotions".
west-point.org]. (see notes about the author contained therein).
"Taps" (PDF). U.S. Department of Veterans' Affairs (The Story of
^ "Taps". Dictionary.com. Retrieved 26 August 2014.
^ Villanueva, Jari. "Why the Name "Taps"?". tapsbugler.com. Retrieved
26 August 2014.
^ Booth, Russell H. (December 1977). "Butterfield and 'Taps'". Civil
War Times. pp. 35–39.
^ "Detailed History of Taps". West-point.org. 1969-07-04. Retrieved
^ "Pennsylvania in the Civil War". www.pa-roots.com.
^ 'The 83rd Pennsylvania Volunteers in the Civil War' p. 8
^ a b Villanueva, USAF Master Sergeant Jari A. "History of Taps".
Military Funeral Honors Web Page. United States Department of Defense.
Retrieved 4 March 2011.
^ "Military Funeral Honors – Burial and Memorial Benefits". Archived
from the original on 2009-08-14.
^ John C. Tidball, "Second U.S. Artillery", November 21, 1890, Papers
re Second U.S. Artillery, M 727, entry 64, Records of the Office of
the Adjutant General, RG, NA, 14–15. See also Tidball, Eugene C., No
Disgrace to my Country: The Life of John C. Tidball, Kent, Kent State
University Press, 2002, pp. 250–251.
^ "Tapping the Admiral". Retrieved 2011-03-23.
^ "The Story of 'Taps' – Netlore Archive". Urbanlegends.about.com.
1999-03-26. Retrieved 2011-03-23.
^ "The Origin of "Taps"?". BreakTheChain.org. 2003-04-18. Archived
from the original on 2010-12-12. Retrieved 2011-03-23.
^ "The story behind the military song "taps"-Fiction!".
Truthorfiction.com. Retrieved 2011-03-23.
^ "Taps" Archived 2005-02-20 at the Wayback Machine. from Precision
Measurement Equipment Laboratories
Bugle Call". www.usscouts.org.
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