Creating connections through the arts and across cultures

Taps: Humble origin & lyrics

We have all heard the haunting song, "Taps." It's the song that gives us that lump in our throats and usually creates tears in our eyes. But do you know the story behind the song? If not, I think you will be interested to find out about it's humble beginnings.

I too, have felt the chills while listening to "Taps," but I have never seen all the words until now. I didn't even know there was more than one verse. I also never knew the story behind the song.--Erwin A. Thompson


Reportedly, it all began in 1862 during the Civil War, when Union Army Captain Robert Ellicombe was with his men near Harrison's Landing in Virginia. The Confederate Army was on the other side of the narrow strip of land. During the night, Captain Ellicombe heard the moans of a soldier who lay severely wounded on the field. Not knowing if it was a Union or Confederate soldier, Captain Ellicombe decided to risk his life and bring the stricken man back for medical attention. Crawling on his stomach through the gunfire, the Captain reached the stricken soldier and began pulling him toward his encampment. When the Captain finally reached his own lines, he discovered it was actually a Confederate soldier, but the soldier 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. It was his own son. The boy had been studying music in the South when war broke out.

Without telling his father, the boy enlisted in the Confederate Army. The following morning, heartbroken, the father asked permission of his superiors to give his son a full military burial despite his enemy status. His request was only partially granted. Captain Ellicombe 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 turned down since the soldier was a Confederate. But, out of respect for the father, they did say they could give him only 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.

This wish was granted. The haunting melody, we now know as "Taps" used at military funerals, and at the end of each day on US military bases was born.


Day is done,
Gone the sun,
From the lakes,From the hills,
From the skies,
All is well,
Safely rest,
God is nigh.

Fading light,
Dims the sight,
And a star,
Gems the sky,
Gleaming bright,
From afar,
Drawing nigh,
Falls the night.

Thanks and praise,
For our days,
'Neath the sun,
'Neath the stars,
'Neath the sky,
As we go,
This we know,
God is nigh.

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2 Responses »

  1. Thank you Erwin and Janet for bringing this beautiful story to light.

  2. Jim Guinta and I have been chatting about historical, factual truth and metaphorical, symbolic truth. My view is that there are different kinds of truth and different ways of receiving that truth. Sometimes the metaphorical truth is more important to the heart than the strict factual truth.

    For me, my father, and many others, this is a healing story of a divided a war that still leaves traces from nearly tearing our nation apart.

    Jim believes that while you may find different ways of receiving the truth, "There is only ONE kind of truth when dealing with historical facts."

    I believe that both types of truth are part of a whole, and each type is useful in different contexts. Facts and strict history (as understood at the time) are good for some types of understandings...and, yes...tests.

    Metaphorical truth is the truth that will set you free. That's what most spiritual revelation and poetry is based upon.

    It's important in dialogues that we be respectful. And, yes, readers and commentators of Riehlife expect that.


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