May 28, 2012 in Features

Annie’s Mailbox: History behind tune of ‘Taps’

Kathy Mitchell

Dear Annie: A few years ago, on Memorial Day, you printed the words to “Taps.” Very few people actually know the history of this melody.

Until the Civil War, there was a bugle call known as Lights Out or Extinguish Lights. The melody was a variation of a common military tune called a tattoo, and was written by Maj. Gen. Winfield Scott and first published in 1835. Union Gen. Daniel Butterfield, who could not read music, adapted the tune for his brigade in 1862 with the help of his brigade bugler, Oliver Norton. This adaptation became known as “Taps.”

Later that year, Capt. John C. Tidball started the custom of playing “Taps” at a military funeral. The new bugle call quickly spread to other units, and it became a standard component of U.S. military funerals in 1891.

Butterfield died in 1901, and “Taps” was played at his funeral. No one knows who wrote the words, but I’d appreciate it if you could print them again. – New York History Buff

Dear History Buff: We would be honored to do so:


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, our God keep.

On the land or the deep,

Safe in sleep.

Love, good night, must thou go,

When the day, and the night need thee so?

All is well. Speedeth all

To their rest.

Fades the light; and afar,

Goeth day, and the stars shineth bright,

Fare thee well; day has gone,

Night is on.

Thanks and praise, for our days,

‘Neath the sun, ‘neath the stars, ‘neath the sky,

As we go, this we know,

God is nigh.

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