The Internet is a wonderful thing. So much great information can be passed around so quickly. Unfortunately, a lot of it is false. I can’t count the number of emails which have told the sad tale of how “Taps” was written by a Confederate soldier, died on the battlefield, and his brother, a private in the Army of the Potomac, found the song in his brother’s pocket. Several different versions exist. Lovely, but nowhere near correct. The following is extracted from the Arlington National Cemetery website pages on “Ceremonies.”
During the Civil War, in July 1862 when the Army of the Potomac was in camp, Brigadier General Daniel Butterfield summoned his brigade bugler, Pvt. Oliver Wilcox Norton, to his tent. Butterfield, who disliked the colorless hymn “extinguish the lights” call then in use, whistled a new tune and asked the bugler to sound it for him. After repeated trials, and changing the time of some notes which were scribbled on the back of an envelope, the call was finally arranged to suit BG Butterfield and used for the first time that night. The next day buglers from nearby brigades came to Butterfield’s camp to ask the meaning of this new call. They liked it, and copying the music, returned to their camps. But it was not until sometime later that orders were issued, or permission given, to substitute it throughout the Army of the Potomac.
General Butterfield, in composing this call, and directing that it be used for “Taps” in his brigade, could not have foreseen its popularity and the use for another purpose into which it would grow. Today, whenever a member of the Armed Forces is buried with military honors, the ceremony is concluded by firing three volleys of musketry over the grave, and sounding with the trumpet or bugle “Put out the lights. Go to sleep.”
Also, note that the firing of three volleys is far different from the 21-gun salute. I recommend visiting the Arlington National Cemetery website, http://www.arlingtoncemetery.mil/index.htm, for information on these traditional ceremonies.
Finally, please remember to thank a vet or an active duty soldier, sailor, airman or Marine. They are a constant reminder that our cherished freedom is not free.