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The Origin of Taps

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 Confederates were 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, the captain decided to risk his life and bring the stricken man back for medical attention. Crawling on his stomach, the captain reached the stricken soldier and began pulling him toward his encampment.

When the captain finally reached his own lines, he discovered by the uniform that it was a Confederate soldier—the enemy—but the soldier was already 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. He’d been fighting an enemy with an unknown face all that day, which to him was of no consequence. But now the enemy had a face—his son’s face.

The boy had been studying music when the war broke out. Without the father’s knowledge, his son had 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. He was granted permission to bury the soldier, but without the accompanying army band playing the customary funeral dirge. Out of respect for the father, the Commanders granted permission for only one musician to play, and so the captain chose a bugler.

Captain Ellicombe asked the bugler to play a series of musical notes he had found one a piece of paper in the pocket of his dead son’s uniform. The bugler consented, and the haunting melody we now know as “Taps”, used at military funerals, was born.

From a sermon by Joseph Barraclough, "The Crowd’s Miscalculation" 7/29/2008

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