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Monday, June 13, 2016

The "The 24 Soulful And Haunting Notes Of 'Taps'" Story

It was an ordinary day.  The churchyard is quiet as the bugler lifts his bugle to his lips and begins the first three notes of "Taps".  A chill goes through me as I suppose it does to many others standing in the churchyard.  We have gathered to bury my dad's ashes in the memorial garden of St. James Episcopal Church which is one of the most historical churchyards in the country.  
St. James Episcopal Churchyard in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
Patriots from the Revolu- tionary War, as well as other wars in our nation's history, are buried in this cemetery and will now have one more military veteran under the big elm trees.  The honor guard has been called to duty once more and the bugler is part of the ceremony.  The sound rises above the granite stones and monuments, reverberating off the brick walls of the majestic church thirty yards to the west.  
My dad, Pvt. Paul H. Woods
The 24 shrill notes end and quiet once again returns.  We finally shovel dirt into the hole that holds dad's ashes and another veteran comes back to life in this beautiful churchyard.  What sealed the tomb for me was the simple and eerie tune that still echoes in my mind every time I hear it.  "Taps" has been played at the funerals and gravesites of military veterans ever since it was first written during the Civil War.  I recently read an article telling of the two versions about how "Taps" was supposedly written.  One version tells of Union Army Captain Robert Ellicombe who in 1862, near Harrison's Landing in Virgina, hearing the moaning of a soldier who lay mortally wounded on a nearby battlefield and not knowing if it came from a Union or Confederate soldier, crawled to the soldier.  He pulled the soldier back to his encampment and only then, under the light of a lantern, realized it was his own son who had been studying music in the South and had enlisted in the Confederate Army without telling his father.  
The monument in the churchyard which bears
the names of all whose bodies were cremated
and buried in the memorial garden nearby.
The young man died and Captain Ellicombe asked his superiors if the Union Army band could play a funeral dirge for his son's funeral.  Since his son was a Confederate soldier, he was told only one musician would be allowed.  The Captain chose a bugler and asked the musician to play a series of notes that he had found in his dead son's uniform.  The wish was granted and the haunting melody, which was later called "Taps", was what the bugler played for the first time.  The other version has Brig. General Daniel Butterfield, Commander of the 3rd Brigade of the Army of the Potomac, altering a bugle call known as "Tattoo," used to signal the end of  a soldier's day.  Private Oliver Willcox Norton, the brigade's bugler, was summoned to the General's tent in July 1862 and given an envelope which had some notes written in pencil on the back of it.  
Names are engraved into the monument.  As you see,
my mother's name is under my father's name, but she
was living at the time of dad's death and therefore
has no death date next to her name.
The General asked Pvt. Norton to play the music as written and after playing them several times, was asked to shorten some notes and lengthen others, but still retaining the melody.  The Commander finally gave his approval and directed the soldier to sound this music thereafter instead of the traditional "Tattoo".  "Taps" was born that summer evening and heard by other brigades nearby.  The next day several other buglers from nearby brigades visited and asked for a copy of the music which they also began to play.  Eventually "Taps" was played by both the Union and Confederate brigades as an end-of-day signal and is now used at funerals of American servicemen.  It's been almost ten years ago that dad died, but I still get that chill whenever I hear "Taps" played, even on TV.  The 24 soulful and haunting notes, still known as "Taps", are probably some of the most recognized and requested notes for military burials that exist.  It was another extraordinary day in the life of an ordinary guy.

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