New York State Funeral Directors Association

Silence and bowed heads often accompany the playing of Taps – that somber bugle call that’s become a standard at service member funerals since it was introduced to the U.S. military during the Civil War.

This unmistakable song was initially used as a signal for troops at military bases to shut out the lights (and go to bed).

Air Force Non-Commissioned Officer Jari Villanueva, who served with the U.S. Air Force Band for 23 years, shared details about this famous funeral melody, and its origin, in The Connection Series podcast.

Credited with bringing Taps into U.S. military use is New York State native and Civil War Union General Daniel Butterfield.

Butterfield made the decision to replace a bugle call that was being used to signify bed time in the 1860s.

In 1862, Butterfield and military bugler Oliver Wilcox Norton, also from New York, collaborated and modified an old military infantry bugle call, leaving the 24 notes that make up Taps today, Villanueva said.

At that time, the U.S. Military’s bugle calls were gathered from a French manual, he said. General Butterfield

So the original melody from which today’s “Taps” was created is actually of French origin.

Prior to the use of Taps as a standard bugle call at the end of the evening, there was another in use: “Lights Out,” also known as “Extinguish Lights.”

When military bands played Lights Out on a parade field, it was followed by a lone drummer who would hit the drum three times in succession – tap, tap, tap, Villanueva said.

Consequently, when the new bugle call came into use, soldiers started calling it “Taps,” and the name stuck.

According to Villanueva, the new Taps got its first use in a funeral during the Civil War.

He said an artillery officer coordinating the funeral for a soldier decided to skip the three-gun salute because the unit was too close to enemy lines. He ordered Taps played on a bugle instead, Villanueva said.

Other military units started using Taps at military funerals during the Civil War – which claimed the lives of more than 600,000 Americans – and eventually it was used “all the time,” Villanueva said.

It wasn’t until 1891 when Taps became part of the official military funeral protocol, he said.

Today, Taps is designated the “National Song Of Military Remembrance” in the United States.

To learn more about Villanueva and efforts to continue the live play of Taps at Military Funerals, CLICK HERE. 

Visit THIS LINK to listen to the Connection Series podcast on Military Funerals.

EdsPhotoEdward Munger Jr.
Communications & Social Media Specialist
NYS Funeral Directors Association