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The story behind 'Taps'

Note: A touching recitation of this version of the story behind Taps was given last year for Veterans Day by Assistant Superintendent Jim Franklin for a McDuffie County Board of Education meeting.

Dr. Franklin said he received the story from Thomson High band director Jesse Morlan. For complete words to the song, other versions of the history behind it, and information about this version, visit

Almost everyone has heard Taps played at a funeral. And all who have served in the military recognize the slow, mournful tune. Here is an interesting version of its origin:

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 a narrow strip of land.

During the night, Captain Ellicombe heard the moan of a soldier who lay mortally wounded on the battlefield. Not knowing whether it was a Union or Confederate soldier, the captain decided to risk his life and bring the stricken man back to his camp for medical attention.

Crawling on his stomach through gunfire, the captain reached the stricken soldier and began pulling him towards his encampment. When the captain finally reached his own lines, he discovered it actually was a Confederate soldier, but the soldier was dead.

The captain lit a lantern. Suddenly, he caught his breath and went numb with shock. In the dim light of the lantern, he saw the face of the soldier. It was his son.

The boy had been studying music in the South when the war broke out. Without telling his father, he 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 partially granted.

The captain had asked if he could have a group of Army band members play a funeral dirge for the son at the funeral. That request was turned down since the soldier was Confederate. 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 his dead son's uniform. The wish was granted. This music was the haunting melody we now know as Taps.

These are the words to Taps:

"Day is done, gone the sun, from the lakes, from the hills, from the sky. All is well. Safely rest. God is nigh."

Web posted on Thursday, November 05, 2009

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