BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) – According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, “taps” is thought to be a revised version of a French bugle signal called “tattoo” that let soldiers know when to return to their garrisons for the night.
The version we hear today was composed by a Union General during the Civil War.
In 1862 Gen. Daniel Adams Butterfield initially used it as a less formal way to signal the day’s end, according to the VA report.
The VA says the first time “taps” was played at a military funeral may have been in Virginia shortly after it was composed. Union Captain John Tidball reportedly ordered the song to be played at the burial for a canonneer killed in battle instead of firing rifles over the grave which was traditional, but might give away their position to the enemy.
Ten months after it was composed it was played at the burial of Confederate General Stonewall Jackson, according to the VA.
After the war it was made the official Army bugle call, but it wasn’t until 1874 that the music was given the name “taps”, according to the VA.
The department says by 1891, Army infantry regulations required the playing of taps at military funeral ceremonies.
Today the military plays taps at burial and memorial services, to signal the “lights out” command at day’s end, and when the flag is lowered.
Polished, precise, and professional Gene Ramsay practices and perfects his bugle playing with military discipline.
Though he never served in the military playing taps is his way of serving veterans and their families.
He’s not with them long, just a moment, a very important moment. He’s there just long enough for 24 notes.
“So to me the notes, the 24 notes of taps, is a way for us to say goodbye to that portion of their life and send them on. It’s a very meaningful process for the family. I get, I get more guys probably that tear up when they hear taps than probably the women do,” said Gene Ramsay, Alabama State Director for Bugles Across America. “The military- because not every member can play a musical instrument- had to devise a way to properly honor their veterans who passed away. And they devised the funeral honors and those funeral honors basically stipulated that the military was to provide for the family a folded flag and taps be played. Unfortunately when they said taps needed to be played it was not stipulated how. And they developed a recording and that recording was used at the gravesides of many of our United States veterans. A Marine by the name of Tom Day in Chicago, Illinois would not hear of it. He said you know what that’s something, this is , this is a final moment and it needs to be done with dignity. It needs to be done with honor. It needs to be done by a live human being. And so he put out the call and months later he had thousands of buglers across our nation who- people said I’ll take my trumpet, I’ll take my bugle, I’ll take whatever it is I have and I will be proud to stand at the graveside of a fallen veteran and play live taps for that person at their, at the family’s request.”