“Day is done, gone the sun,
From the hills, from the lake,
From the skies.
All is well, safely rest,
God is nigh.” — “Taps”
In July 1862, after the Seven Days Civil War battles near Richmond, Va., Gen. Dan Butterfield, the wounded commander of the 3rd Brigade, 1st Division, 5th Army Corps of the Army of the Potomac, and his bugler, Oliver Wilcox Norton, reworked the “Scott Tattoo” bugle call to create the song we now know as “Taps.”
Norton was the first to sound the new call. Within months it was being used by both Union and Confederate forces.
That same year, “Taps” first was played at a military funeral, for a cannoneer killed during the Peninsular Campaign in Virginia. The U.S. Army officially recognized the song in 1874, and “Taps” became a standard component of U.S. military funerals in 1891.
Ever since then the haunting strains have been heard above military bases, battlefields and cemeteries the world over.
In recent years, modern technology has caught up with the playing of “Taps.” Skilled buglers have grown scarce. As a result, Congress passed a law that took effect in January 2000 allowing a recorded version of “Taps” to be played at military funerals if a live bugler is not available. After that, “Taps” began being played on boom boxes.
In recent years, however, another solution has come along. It’s called the ceremonial bugle, a cone-shaped device that fits inside the bell of a bugle. Flip a switch and, after a five-second delay, a recording of “Taps” begins playing loud and clear. All the “bugler” has to do is lift the bugle to his or her lips and simulate playing.
Vance Air Force Base’s honor guard, the Silver Talons, currently has no buglers, though a local civilian is on call if needed, so they often resort to the ceremonial bugle for military funerals and other events.