Tapping Into ‘Taps’: A century and a half ago, two battle-weary Civil War soldiers wrote the famous bugle call
Like many great American songs, “Taps” had two composers—one with musical chops, the other with a big idea. Fortunately for the bugle call’s place in history, the musician let his more powerful collaborator spread the word, and the 24-note song survived and flourished.
On Saturday, Armed Forces Day, 200 buglers will fan out among the graves at Arlington National Cemetery to sound “Taps” simultaneously at noon. The event marks the start of a series of tributes honoring the 150th anniversary of the elegiac song originally composed in July 1862 during the Civil War.
While the exact date isn’t known, correspondence by those involved indicates it was shortly after the Seven Days Battles, which ended on July 1, said Jari Villanueva, a “Taps” historian and former Arlington bugler.
Back then, as the Union Army rested at Harrison’s Landing, Va., following a grueling victory, Maj. Gen. Daniel Butterfield grew weary of “Extinguish Lights” —the French bugle call used to mark evening turn-in. “Butterfield found it too formal and wanted a softer, more melodious call,” said Mr. Villanueva, who will play Saturday both at Arlington and at Union College in Schenectady, N.Y., from which Butterfield graduated in 1849.