One Version of the Origin of 'Taps'

The Spring 1996 Edition of The SGAUS Journal ran a very moving story on the origin of `Taps' authored by COL William J. Preston (TN). The Summer 1996 edition ran a letter which forwarded Kathryn Shenkle's article published in Soldiers Magazine which described a completely different origin. Ms. Shenkle is an historian with Arlington National Cemetery. She provided her article to publish with the letter. (See Ms. Shenkle's version: Another Version of the Origin of 'Taps'.)

Interesting enough, The Ohio Military Reserve Sentinel (Spring 1997 Ed.) published a story by SGM Mendes (excerpted from Encyclopedia of Amazing But True Facts). The facts of the story from this article correspond exactly with that of COL Preston's. And, whether accurate or not, we may never know. As the letter to the Editor from Charles A. Robertson pointed out, "The fog of war, time, and personal observations are rarely in agreement as to actual events." Still, the story is so moving, it is worth republishing:

It all begin in 1862, during the Civil War, when a Union Army Captain, Robert Ellicombe, was with his men near Harrison's Landing in Virginia. The Confederate Army was on the other side of this narrow strip of land. During the night, Captain Ellicombe heard the moan of a soldier who lay mortally wounded on 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 for medical attention. Crawling on his stomach through the gun fire, 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. Suddenly, he 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 the war broke out. Without telling his father, he had enlisted in the Confederate Army.

The following morning, the heartbroken father asked permission of his supervisors 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 a 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 the dead youth's uniform.

This wish was granted. That music was the haunting bugle melody we now know as "Taps" used at all military funerals.

See also another version of the origin of 'Taps': 'Taps' - Version 2.

See also another version of the origin of 'Taps': 'Taps' - Version 3.

Back to SGAUS Home Page