The story of “Taps” might seem a bit of a stretch for Mother’s Day, but my mother has been gone for six and a half years now, so death is on my mind today.
Apparently, there are all sorts of myths circulating about this touching bugle call. One such story claims that in the middle of a battle near Harrison’s Landing in Virginia, a Union officer found a dying soldier and dragged him back to camp. When he lit a lamp, he saw that the man was a confederate soldier, and that he was dead. He turned the man over and drew in an agonized breath. The soldier was his son. The boy was supposed to be studying music, not fighting for any army, let alone the confederate army.
The heartbroken father wanted to give his son a full military funeral. His request was granted, but since the son was an enemy soldier, he was only allowed a single musical instrument. The father chose a bugle, and he asked the bugler to play the few notes he’d found in his son’s pocket.
The truth is a bit more prosaic. Taps is a revision of an older bugle call, “Scott’s Tattoo,” first published in 1835. In 1862, Gen. Daniel Butterfield worked with his bugler, Private Oliver Willcox Norton, to rearrange the tattoo, lengthening some notes, shortening others. When the new call met with Butterfield’s satisfaction, the General ordered “Taps” to be sounded at night in place of the traditional French tune “Light’s Out” they’d been using. When buglers from neighboring brigades heard the call, they visited Norton and asked for copies of the music. Within months, both Northern and Southern forces were sounding “Taps” at the end of the day.
There are no official words to the music, but these are the ones most of us know:
Day is done, gone the sun,
From the hills, from the lake,
From the sky.
All is well, safely rest,
God is nigh.
All is well, Mother. Safely rest.
Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.