Contrary to a recent Urban Legend, the tune of taps was written (or
rather, adapted) by Union General Dan Butterfield of Utica NY in 1862
during the Civil War. The story varies as to the original source of the
song. One source says that Taps is actually adapted from the French
"Tatoo" ("Extinguish Lights") that was played at the
close of business. Family history, however, says the song was actually
written by confederate Milton Butterfield, a relative of General Dan who
gave the song to the General written on the back of an envelope during a
truce. This is confirmed in a letter brigade bugler Oliver Wilcox Norton
wrote to a newspaper in 1898, indicating that he had been given the tune
written on a back on an envelope.
The newspaper wrote General Dan Butterfield, then living in Cold
Springs, NY., to confirm the story. Here is a portion of his response:
"I had composed a call for my brigade, to precede any calls,
indicating that such were calls, or orders, for my brigade alone.
The call of Taps did not seem to be as smooth, melodious and musical
as it should be, and I called in some one who could write music, and
practiced a change in the call of Taps until I had it suit my ear,
and then, as Norton writes, got it to my taste without being able to
write music or knowing the technical name of any note, but, simply
by ear, arranged it as Norton describes."
Later, at a Union military funeral, Taps was substituted for the
customary rifle volleys at the graveside. It seems that Union officers
were worried that the ceremonial gunshots would set off an attack by the
edgy Confederates. Taps was well on its way to becoming the nation's
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,
On the land or the deep,
Safe in sleep.