Taps will be 150 years old this month and is a musical piece sounded at dusk and at funerals, particularly by the U.S. military.

It is played at the end of the day when our flag is lowered and at funerals, generally on bugle or trumpet, and often at Boy Scout and Girl Scout meetings and camps.

The tune is actually a variation of an earlier bugle call known as “Scott’s Tattoo,” which was used in the U.S. from 1835 until 1860. It was arranged in its current form by the Union Army Brig. Gen. Daniel Butterfield, also a Medal of Honor recipient, in July 1862 to replace a previous French bugle call used to signal “lights out.”

Butterfield’s bugler, Oliver W. Norton, of Erie, Pa., was the first to sound the new call. Within months, both Union and Confederate forces used taps. The U.S. Army officially recognized it in 1874.

Capt. John C. Tidball, West Point, class of 1848, started the custom of playing taps at a military funeral. A corporal under Tidball’s command died early in July 1862. He was, Tidball recalled later, “a most excellent man.”

Tidball desired to bury the soldier with full military honors, but was denied permission to fire three guns over his grave.

Tidball later wrote, “The thought suggested itself to me to sound taps instead, which I did. The idea was taken up by others, until in a short time it was adopted by the entire army and is now looked upon as the most appropriate and touching part of a military funeral.”

As Tidball proudly proclaimed, “Battery A has the honor of having introduced this custom into the service, and it is worthy of historical note.”

Don Demers, historian

American Legion Post 205


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