Taps

A friend sent me information about the bugle call known as Taps. Here’s the story:

Background: Taps is one of more than a dozen short tunes played on a bugle to announce events on military camps, forts, and ships. The first is Reveille, a wake-up call. The last is Taps, marking the end of the day. Taps is also used at military funerals to signal the end of a life. Here’s one story about the tune’s origin, probably apocryphal:

During the Civil War, Union Army Captain Robert Elli was with his men near Harrison’s Landing in Virginia. The Confederate Army was on the other side of the narrow strip of land. During the night, Captain Elli heard the moans of a soldier who lay severely wounded on the field. Not knowing if it was a Union or Confederate soldier, Elli decided to risk his life and bring the stricken man back for medical attention. Crawling on his stomach through the gunfire, he reached the stricken soldier and pulled him toward the encampment.

When Elli reached his own lines, he discovered that the man was actually a Confederate soldier. He was dead.

Elli lit a lantern and caught his breath. In the dim light, he saw the face of the soldier. It was his own son. The boy had been studying music in the South when the war broke out.  Without telling his father, he had enlisted in the Confederate Army.

The following morning, heartbroken, the father asked permission of his superiors to give his son a full military burial, despite his enemy status. His request was only partially granted.

Elli asked if he could have a group of army band members play a dirge for his son at the funeral. The request was turned down since the soldier was a Confederate. But, out of respect for the father, the authorities allowed him only one musician.

Elli chose a bugler and asked the him to play a series of musical notes he had found on a piece of paper in the pocket of the dead youth’s uniform. The haunting melody we now know as Taps used at military funerals was born.

More tomorrow.

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