Who Wrote Taps?

Contrary to a recent Urban Legend, the tune of taps was written (or rather, adapted) by Union General Dan Butterfield of Utica NY in 1862 during the Civil War. The story varies as to the original source of the song. One source says that Taps is actually adapted from the French "Tatoo" ("Extinguish Lights") that was played at the close of business. Family history, however, says the song was actually written by confederate Milton Butterfield, a relative of General Dan who gave the song to the General written on the back of an envelope during a truce. This is confirmed in a letter brigade bugler Oliver Wilcox Norton wrote to a newspaper in 1898, indicating that he had been given the tune written on a back on an envelope.

The newspaper wrote General Dan Butterfield, then living in Cold Springs, NY., to confirm the story. Here is a portion of his response:

"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."

Later, at a Union military funeral, Taps was substituted for the customary rifle volleys at the graveside. It seems that Union officers were worried that the ceremonial gunshots would set off an attack by the edgy Confederates. Taps was well on its way to becoming the nation's requiem.

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,
God keep.
On the land or the deep,
Safe in sleep.