Tapping into History

Not the light persistent striking of your pencil on the table or water that comes from a faucet, but the simple tune that is now played and well known at summer camps, funerals, and dusk. But where did it originate from, and how did it come to be known as widely as it is now?

Photo by Martin S. Fuentes

Before and during a couple years of the American Civil War, the French “Extinguished Lights” bugle call was used at dusk. It was Daniel Butterfield, Union General of the Army of the Pontiac, and Oliver Wilcox Norton who rewrote the bugle. Butterfield found “Extinguished Lights” to be too formal for a night song.  So following after the Seven Days Battle in July of 1862, “Taps” was written. It evolved quickly into a military funeral bugle when Captain John Tidball had “Taps” played because firing the traditional three cannons might alert enemies. Today, both “Taps” and the three cannons are performed.

It is amazing that such a bloody and devastating war gave us such wistful and beautiful song, and that nearly 150 years later it is still heard and loved. The simplistic melancholy piece may still remind you of the blistering summers of your childhood or the trip to Arlington Cemetery, but hopefully now, if only for a moment, you will also recall America’s biggest tragedy.

Sources: http://www.west-point.org/taps/Taps.html

                 The American Pageant, 11th edition, Bailey


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