Exploring Music's Complexities

Military Bugler History

Military Music

It is not surprising that a powerful relationship exists between military funerals and music. History tells us military music has been employed in battle for centuries, sometimes to unnerve the enemy and other times to encourage combatants.

Bugle Calls and Fanfares

Much of the military music has been composed to announce military events as with bugle calls and fanfares, or accompany marching formations with drum cadences, or mark special occasions as by military bands.  “Taps,” the distinctive bugle melody played at U.S. military funerals and memorials and as a lights-out signal to soldiers at night, dates back to the American Civil War.


Taps was composed in July 1862, by U.S. General Daniel Butterfield at Harrison’s Landing, Virginia, where his troops were recuperating after the Seven Days Battles near Richmond. He had a dislike for the standard bugle call the Army used to signal it was time to go to sleep.  So, he reworked an existing bugle call used for that purpose. He wrote “Taps” to replace the customary firing of three rifle volleys at the end of burials during battle. It is believed by others that “Taps” also replaced Tattoo the French bugle call to signal “lights out”.

It is said that Private Oliver Wilcox Norton, the company bugler, played Taps for the men.  It was so well liked that it quickly spread throughout the Army, and was even played by the Confederates.


Not long after Butterfield created “Taps,” it was played for the first time at a military funeral, for a Union cannoneer killed in action. The man’s commanding officer, Captain John Tidball, decided the bugle call would be safer than the traditional firing of three rifle volleys over the soldier’s grave, a move which couldn’t, been the war.

Three Drums Beats

The name “Taps,” probably evolved from the prior bugle call which was followed by three drum beats, dubbed the “Drum Taps,” “The Taps” and then simply “Taps.” When Butterfield’s call replaced the drum beats, soldiers unofficially referred to it as “Taps,”. Historian and bugle expert Jari Villanueva. notes that Butterfield’s bugle call was officially known as “Extinguish Lights” in American military manuals until 1891. Since that time, “Taps” also has been a formally recognized part of U.S. military funerals.

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