A few months ago someone transmitted an e-mail story about “Taps” to my attention. You have probably received and read a variation of it since it has been circulating the Internet for years. I have enjoyed reading the story many times, and knew it to be a wonderful and emotional tale. I also knew that it was fictitious an apocryphal story. For years I have wanted to write about this and get the true story out there in cyber space but just never got around to doing it. With Memorial Day coming soon, I decided now would be a good time to make my mark on this subject.
As a young lad I was given a boy-scout bugle by a childhood friend. While my buddy could pound out the beat on a set of drums with the best of them, he could not play the bugle. I practiced and practiced in my parents home, probably driving them nearly insane, until I learned to play one tune very well on the bugle. The tune was “taps” and the haunting melody of “Taps” has been a fascination for me ever since. The melody of “Taps” places me in a daze full of respect of remembering all the fallen military warriors who served and died for this Country.
Here’s the fable of Taps that I received and which is still circulating the Internet:
“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 of land.
During the night, Captain Ellicombe heard the moan of a soldier who lay mortally 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. Suddenly, he 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, he 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 partially granted. The captain had asked if he could have a group of Army band members play a funeral dirge for the son at the funeral. That request was turned down since the soldier was a Confederate. 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 his dead son’s uniform.This wish was granted. This music was the haunting melody we now know as “Taps” that is used at all military funerals.” – Author unknown.
I emphasize that the above story is a very good read but I also assert that it is a fictitious tale. There is not any proof to the story and, for that matter, any proof that Captain Ellicombe even existed.
I have enjoyed lots of patriotic and military music over the years and most all provided that emotional tug to the heart, but not one of them brought the emotions to the forefront as the melody of “Taps”. Following is the definitive but brief history of “Taps”:
For many years right up to the start of the civil war, a song named “lights out” was played at the end of each military day. In 1862, at Harrison’s Landing near Richmond Virginia, Union General Daniel A. Butterfield, after many bloody battles and the loss of six hundred men, ordered his brigade bugler to his command post.
General Butterfield, with battlefield wounds from the past seven days of fierce fighting, felt that he wanted to honor his men, especially the dead. His thoughts were that “Lights Out” did not sufficiently honor his brigade and the fallen men. In the words of the bugler, Oliver Wilcox Norton, “…showing me some notes on a staff written in pencil on the back of an envelope, (he) asked me to sound them on my bugle. I did this several times, playing the music as written. He changed it somewhat, lengthening some notes and shortening others, but retaining the melody as he first gave it to me. After getting it to his satisfaction, he directed me to sound that call for Taps thereafter in place of the regulation call. The music was beautiful on that still summer night and was heard far beyond the limits of our Brigade. The next day I was visited by several buglers from neighboring Brigades, asking for copies of the music which I gladly furnished. The call was gradually taken up through the Army of the Potomac.”
The actual haunting melody I learned to play was adopted sometime thereafter and is played today at military funerals across the nation. There are not any official words to “Taps” but I am honored that someday that melody, learned a lifetime ago, will one day echo over my graveside at Oakwood Historical Cemetery, Raleigh, North Carolina.
In honor to all those heroic warriors and in time for 2010 Memorial Day, here are my personal favorite words to “Taps”:
Day is done, gone the sun,
From the hills, from the lake,
From the sky.
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.
Love, good night, Must thou go,
When the day, And the night
Need thee so?
All is well. Speedeth all
To their rest.
Fades the light; And afar
Goeth day, And the stars
Fare thee well; Day has gone,
Night is on.
Thanks and praise, For our days,
‘Neath the sun, Neath the stars,
‘Neath the sky,
As we go, This we know,
God is nigh.
Let’s remember what Memorial Day is all about and that it is not just a three day weekend. Lets pray for and honor all those who serves and have served in the USA military.
Sources: http://www.usmemorialday.org/taps.html | http://www.militaryfuneralhonors.osd.mil/intro.html
The Global Position