Played as the last call of the day - to stop all talking
and have lights out by the last note.
A sketch of a cavalry bugler - Billings,
Hardtack and Coffee
The 24-note melancholy bugle call known as "taps"
is thought to be a revision of a French bugle
signal, called "tattoo
," that notified soldiers to cease an
evening's 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 the
tattoo resemble taps.
The word "taps"
is an alteration of the obsolete word "taptoo,"
derived from the Dutch "taptoe." Taptoe was the
command "Tap toe!" - to shut ("toe to") the
"tap" of a keg.
The revision that gave us present-day taps was
made during America's Civil War by Union
Gen. Daniel Adams Butterfield, heading a brigade
camped at Harrison Landing, Va., near Richmond.
Up to that time, the U.S. Army's infantry call
to end the day was the French final call, "L'Extinction
des feux." Gen. Butterfield decided the "lights
out" music was too formal to signal the day's
end. One day in July, 1862 he recalled the
tattoo music and hummed a version of it to an
aide, who wrote it down in music. Butterfield
then asked the brigade bugler, Oliver W. Norton,
to play the notes and, after listening,
lengthened and shortened them while keeping his
He ordered Norton to play this new call at the
end of each day thereafter, instead of the
regulation call. The music was heard and
appreciated by other brigades, who asked for
copies and adopted this bugle call. It was even
adopted by Confederate buglers.
This music was made the official Army
bugle call after the war, but not given the name
The first time taps was played at a military
funeral may also have been in Virginia soon
after Butterfield composed it. Union Capt. John
Tidball, head of an artillery battery, ordered
it played for the burial of a cannoneer killed
in action. Not wanting to reveal the battery's
position in the woods to the enemy nearby,
Tidball substituted taps for the traditional
three rifle volleys fired over the grave. Taps
was played at the funeral of Confederate Gen.
Stonewall Jackson 10 months after it was
composed. Army infantry regulations by 1891
required taps to be played at military funeral
Taps now is played by the military at burial and
memorial services, to accompany the lowering of
the flag and to signal the "lights out" command
at day's end.
There are no official words to the music
but the following are some of the more popular
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.
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.
For a more detailed story about the creation of
"Taps", please visit
The West Point Website