The History Of Taps

The melody that gave the present day "Taps" was made during the Civil War by Union General Danial Adams Butterfield, in command of a brigade camped at Harrison Landing, Virginia, near Richmond. Up to that time, the U.S. Army infantry call to end the day was the French final call "L'Extinction des feux". General Butterfield decided the "lights out" music was too formal to signal the end of the day. One day in July 1862, he recalled the "Tatoo" music and hummed a version of it to an aide who wrote the melody down. Butterfield asked the brigade bugler, Oliver W. Norton, to play the notes, and after listening, he lengthened and shortened them while keeping the original melody.

Thereafter, General Butterfield ordered Norton to play this new call at the end of each day instead of the regular call. The music was heard and appreciated by the other brigades, who asked for copies and adopted it for own use. It was even adopted by the Confederates.

The melody was made the official Army bugle call after the war, but was not given the name "Taps" until 1874.

The first time "Taps" was played at a military funeral may have been in Virginia, soon after Butterfield composed it. Union Captain John Tidball, head of an artillery battery, ordered it played for the burial of a connoneer killed in action. Not wanting to reveal the position of the battery, Tidball substituted "Taps" for the three rifle vollys fired over the grave.

Other Sources:
West Point
Another Version of the Origin of 'Taps'
Origin of Taps Myth

Taps Lyrics

While there are no official words to the bugle call "Taps", the commonly used lyrics are:

Fading light dims the sight,
And a star gems the sky, gleaming bright.
From afar drawing nigh -- Falls the night.

Day is done, gone the sun,
From the lake, from the hills, from the sky;
All is well, safely rest, God is nigh.

Then good night, peaceful night,
Till the light of the dawn shineth bright;
God is near, do not fear -- Friend, good night.