It’s just 24 notes played by a single instrument, but it can stir more emotions than perhaps any other melody. Take just 2 minutes and listen here.

In the early days of the military, a bugle was used to notify troops of when it was time to go to sleep. The standard bugle call was ok but not quite satisfactory. It was during the Civil War when General Daniel Butterfield decided to rework the call to sleep. He asked Private Oliver Norton to play it. The new melody was instantly accepted. Soon both Union and Confederate troops were called to rest by the same melody.

After the acceptance of the new melody, it was first played at a funeral of a fallen soldier. Traditionally three rifle volleys were fired over the grave of the fallen soldier. Fearing that the three rifle volleys would be misinterpreted as the resumption of the battle, the call to sleep melody replaced the rifle volleys.

The melody was followed by three drum beats to preserve the original symbolism of the three rifle shots. The drum beats were referred to as drum taps. Eventually, the melody which was originally called Extinguish Lights became known as Taps.

Taps has now become the stirring tribute at every military funeral. Beginnings like Taps evolve as circumstances warrant. What began as an improvision after seven days of battle at Harrison’s Landing near Richmond has become a universally accepted tribute to those who gave all to our country.

* * *

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.

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,
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.

– Words to Taps

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