“Its echoes linger in the heart long after its tones have ceased to vibrate in the air.” – Oliver Willcox Norton
What is just 24 notes long; takes 45 seconds to play; and sends shivers down your spine?
The answer, of course, is Taps.
The sound of Taps has been one of the most revered ways to honor those who gave the ultimate sacrifice for our nation, and is the most recognizable of the bugle calls. It also has a special connection to Gettysburg.
Major Dan Butterfield, commander of the Third Brigade, First Division, Fifth Army Corps, Army of the Potomac, composed the tune for his troops in July of 1862 while stationed in Harrison’s Landing, Va. It was not intended to be the funeral ballad it is today, but rather a call to let soldiers know it was time for lights out.
One year later, Butterfield served as chief of staff to Gen. George Meade during the Battle of Gettysburg. He was wounded by a shell fragment on the last day of the battle, July 3.
Taps became a popular tune with both Confederate and Union soldiers during the Civil War, and shortly after its creation, the captain of an artillery company used it at a funeral service, fearing the traditional firing of three gun volleys would be mistaken as fighting.
The tune soon became a popular segment of military funerals, and in 1891, it became an official part of the interment service. There are no official words to Taps, but popular verses reference the song’s original theme of putting soldiers to bed for the night.
The sound of Taps will echo across the country as we honor those who have fallen in its service this Memorial Day. These 24 notes never fail to create an emotional response in me, and I can’t think of a more fitting tribute to our fallen heroes.