The Progression of Taps

The below article derived from some postings in Szabo-land where one person counted a trip to Berkeley Plantation where General Dan Butterfield is claimed to have written Taps as a location in her Civil Wargasm.

My response was:

"Taps wasn't composed by Butterfield ..." this one doesn't count in your Wargasm. See, "The True Story of Taps" by Joseph L. Whitney and Stephen W. Sears in the August 1993 issue of Blue and Gray Magazine.

The melody predates the war. The earliest known version which "can be positively identified as Taps is in a tactics manual published in 1836 by Samuel Cooper, the future senior general of the Confederate army, entitled A Concise System of Instructions and Regulations for the Militia and Volunteers of the United States. It shows up there as the second half of the infantry Tattoo call, at that time the last call of the day.

"We also find a second example of Taps of prewar origin. In 1861 Elias Howe, inventor of the sewing machine, published a manual called The United States Regulation Drum and Fife Instructor, containing bugle calls "To Extinguish Lights (Or Taps)" for the cavalry.

"The actual composer of Taps, and the date of its authorship, are probably lost in antiquity. [ ] But most assuredly it did not originate with Dan Butterfield."

Then a bugler who reenacts stepped into the fray. His initial response was:

I've got Elias Howe's manual, and the call shows up as you [Silas] stated. It's a poor example of Taps as we know it, much too close to the more militant 2nd Stanza of the 1835 Tattoo (which is also in Scott's as well as Cooper's Manual) from which Howe and Butterfield clearly use as the basis for their calls.

Here are the strikes against Howe:

1. It's very much like the 1835 Tattoo, with the dotted 8th 16th note combinations, and the militant double 16th double 8th note ending (used a lot in trumpet fanfares, not lullabies).

2. The long notes in his Taps (the one that a good trumpeter fades away on) are HALF NOTES, and the hold (a fermata) is on the REST. So Howe is calling for a jerky "Day is Done" followed by a long pause of silence. Then "Gone the Sun" followed by a long pause, etc. Just the opposite effect of modern Taps. (Replace the modern words I used with "Go to Sleep" if you want it to be period authentic).

3. Printed in 1862 in Boston, it's conceivable that Howe or others heard the call being played as we know it today, and mis-arranged (wrote down the wrong rhythms, notes) it for printing after hearing Butterfield/Norton's version. Howe has several MAJOR errors in his manual...extra measures (see the Cavalry General), missed notes, and calls written in the old trumpet scale as opposed to the bugle scale (Cavalry Charge).

4. Howe was not a veteran ACW bugler (as evidenced by the errors in writing down the calls). Howe's Infantry Calls for RALLY are Hardee's calls, even though CASEY'S 1862 manual changed these (Rally by Section, Rally by Platoon), added the "Signal of Execution" to aid in moving Brigades and higher by bugle, and were rapidly being adopted by mid 1862. He adds two calls for Cavalry Skirmishers (no. 6 and 7) which aren't in Poinsett's, Patten's, nor Cooke's Cavalry Tactics Manuals. And misses Rally on The Chief (used by Custer at Trevillian's and Gettysburg among others).

5. Butterfield was an accomplished bugler, even sounding The Charge himself at First Bull Run.

6. Butterfield and Norton got the credit for it in the Century Magazine would have thought that someone making a living publishing music and music manuals would have been all over this one from 1863 on..... Taps doesn't even get put into the Regs until 1891....

7. Butterfield was very quick to admit that he did not Invent the notes. That he took an existing call written down on the back of an envelope and had Oliver Norton play around with the tune, adjusting notes as required to make a more melodious, lyrical, lullaby. For all we know Butterfield took Howe's call, and re-arranged it to come up with modern Taps!

On the plus side for HOWE:

1. He may be the first in writing to call a bugle call the same thing as the 3 isolated drum beats ending an infantryman's day (The Taps). Then unfortunately he assigns it as a cavalry call....

2. It is even more based on the 2nd Stanza of the 1835 Tattoo than Butterfield's, with 27 notes instead of 24. Both composer's had to drop the first two measures by the way, which CANNOT be played on a bugle (played on a valved instrument or keyed bugle in 1835 - 1855).

3. No one until 1993 stands up for him, even though his very similar sounding call, entitled Taps is printed in 1862.

4. Oliver Norton makes no mention of the call in his "Army Letters" book. He's a very honest and intelligent man. Based on his writing style and the topics he covers I can't see how he would have missed this new call if he had been involved in Taps development....

Does Sears or anyone else out there have a DATE for Howe's "United States Regulation Drum and Fife Instructor" Published by Elias Howe and entered in the Clerk's Officer of the District Court of the District of Massachusetts's??

If we could get the DATE on when his manual was published that 'might' settle things.

However, Butterfield's version is the modern taps, and is clearly more lyrical than Howe's version....of the 2nd Stanza of the 1835 Tattoo.


Recently, Mr. Samp sent me the below notes for the calls and a more complete history of what is now known as Taps.


To Extinguish Lights. L'Extinguish des Feux.

Used by the French since the 1790's. Napoleon's FAVORITE bugle call. Both the 1835 Scott's and 1836 Cooper's Manuals include this call. Click here or on the music to listen.

Both Manuals copy virtually the entire French 1832 Infantry Manual, note for note!

Used by American Civil War Infantry, Cavalry, and Artillery to put out the candles. Following the call, Three single Drum strokes are beat at 4 count intervals, these are "The Taps". In the Cavalry and Artillery this tune played as a TRIO was the signal for evening Roll Call (The Tattoo). As a SOLO it meant lights out.


Here's the Second Stanza of the 1835 Tattoo. There is a marked crescendo/decrescendo over the dotted half and whole notes that I can't quite get with the MIDI software. This is a similar playing style to today's Taps interpretation. At least that's how we did it at summer camp. Notice that the first TWO measures are unplayable on a bugle. That's right, you can't play the E above middle C (that's 1-2 on a Trumpet/Cornet). Click here to listen.

26 Notes.

Similar phrasing and style to the first stanza. The E's and G's would be very difficult to hit on a valveless Eb Cavalry Trumpet. No need to hold those high notes too long on a keyed bugle or cavalry trumpet.


Infantry adopts a new tattoo, it's very military and easier to play. The 1835 Tattoo is dropped. Click here to listen.


In 1861 and 1862 a number of Boston Massachusetts area publishers printed this CAVALRY BUGLE SIGNAL, probably all arranged by Elias Howe (a non-bugler):

26.- To Extinguish Lights (Or Taps.)

27 Notes. Click here to listen.

Still lots of military like syncopation and the harsh paired 16th, paired 8th note ending.

Howe drops/modifies the first two measures of the 1835 Tattoo, 2nd Stanza as they can't be played on a cavalry trumpet, or infantry bugle. Note the boring third  measure which doesn't soar to the E, but instead stays on a tuning C.

Phrasing is terrible. He writes a definite Half Note followed by a hold on the demi-silence (a rest). The effect would be of the note dying out in silence, instead of the more melodious and haunting crescendo/decrescendo of the Tattoo. The middle area with the dotted 8th 16th note combinations is too military for me....this is almost a march, not a lullaby.

1867, 1874

Emery Upton's Tactics Manuals contain the hard work done to the bugle signals (new Calls, and consolidation of the branches into one system) by Truman Seymour, an Artillery officer. The Lights Out call? You guessed it right: To Extinguish Lights, straight from Napoleon's buglers. NOT TAPS, Not Howe's Cavalry Signal, and not John Billings remembrance of what was played in the Artillery camps. Even though Seymour was an artillerist. The 1867 Tattoo for all branches is the INFANTRY TATTOO. Not the Artillery and Cavalry Trios. The 1874 Tattoo is a combination of the French To Extinguish Lights, and the British Tattoo/Hanoverian Infantry Call, the Zapfenstreich. Still used today.


John Billings publishes Hard Tack and Coffee. on Page 196 he says that this call was sounded for lights out in the Artillery:


24 notes. Modern Taps. Click here to listen.

This is the Go to Sleep Bugle Call of the Civil War. The call that Butterfield/Norton played around with a tune (Howe's? the 1835 Tattoo 2nd Stanza?). Buglers play the held notes (the Fermatas) as a crescendo/decrescendo. My Combat Veteran and Trumpet/French Horn Playing father taught me to hold these notes as long as possible, until you ran out of breath. Often you can hear the echo off of a faraway hill or tree line....


John Phillip Sousa publishes one of his MANY bugle call manuals. This is a call from the "A Book of Field Instruction for The Trumpet and Drum" by Sousa:

No. 6.     To Extinguish Lights.

Yes, you read it correctly. The Guru of Modern Drum and Bugle Corps has the Go to Sleep labeled as "To Extinguish Lights". He even sets it to a Drum and Bugle Due and puts a Fermata on the last note (another mistake for John Billings). This is the official Lights Out call of the US Military but it is NOT labeled Taps.


Taps becomes the regs...and it's Sousa's notes from To Extinguish Lights. Daniel Canty and William Safranek both label the call as Taps and the music is identical to JP Sousa's 1880's music (less the drum part).

R.J. Samp
Bugler, 2nd WVI, Co. K 

Three Danada Square East, PMB # 173
Wheaton, IL   60187

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