With Veteran’s Day approaching, I want to share with you a piece of historical trivia that I think we all hold close to our heart … the haunting melody of “Taps”. The song that always gives us a lump in our throat and creates tears in our eyes. But, do you know the story behind the song?
It began, reportedly, during the Civil War in 1862, when Union Army Captain Robert Ellicombe was with his men near Harrison’s Landing, Virginia. The Confederate Army camped on the other side of the narrow strip of land.
During the night, Captain Ellicombe heard the moans of a soldier who was severely wounded in the field. Not knowing if it was a Union or Confederate soldier, the Captain decided to risk his life and bring the stricken man back to the Union camp for medical attention.
Crawling on his stomach through the gunfire, the Captain reached the stricken soldier and began pulling him toward the encampment. When the Captain finally reached his own lines, he discovered it was actually a Confederate soldier, but he was dead.
The Captain lit a lantern and suddenly caught his breath and went numb with shock. In the dim light he saw the face of the soldier … his own son. The boy had been studying music in the South when the war broke out, and without consulting his father, the young man enlisted in the Confederate Army.
Heartbroken, the following morning Captain Ellicombe asked permission to give his son a full military burial despite his enemy status. His request was only partially granted. The Captain had asked if he could have a group of Army band members play a funeral dirge for his son at the funeral. The request was denied since the soldier was a Confederate. But, out of respect for the father, they did say they could give him one musician.
The Captain chose a bugler. He asked the bugler to play a series of musical notes he had found on a piece of paper in the pocket of the dead youth’s uniform.
His wish was granted and the haunting melody, which we now know as “Taps” used at military funerals, was born.
The original version was purely instrumental, but there have been several later lyrics added.
The first, written by Horace Lorenzo Trim, is shown below:
Fading light dims the sight
And a star gems the sky, gleaming bright
From afar drawing nigh,
Falls the night.
Day is done, gone the sun
From the lakes, from the hills, from the skies
All is well, safely rest;
God is nigh.
Then goodnight, peaceful night;
Till the light of the dawn shineth bright.
God is near, do not fear,
Another popular version, penned and harmonized by famed composer Josef Pasternack is:
Love, sweet dreams!
Lo, the beams of the light Fairy moon kissed the streams,
Ah so soon!
Another set of lyrics, used in a recording made by John Wayne about the song, is:
Trumpet call, as the sun, sinks in fright
Sleep in peace, comrades dear,
God is near.
In researching, I found other explanations on how “Taps” was born; and although they seemed to have merit, I like this historical story the best. It might be an example of creative nonfiction or it could be historically correct, I doubt anyone knows for certain.
Have you heard of a different account on how “Taps” came to be?
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