The “Taps” Military Bugle Tune Came From a Confederate Soldier Whose Body was Discovered By His Father, a Union Soldier in the Civil WarFiction!



Summary of eRumor:
A Union Captain in the Civil War named Robert Ellicombe hears the moan of a soldier in the distance one night near Harrison’s Landing in Virginia.  He decides to investigate and discovers that the solider, who is wearing a Confederate uniform, has died.  By the light of his lamp, he realizes to his surprise and horror that the dead solider is his own son.  The son had studied music in the South and without telling his father, had enlisted in the Confederate army.  The grief-stricken father requests a military burial for his son, complete with an army band.  His superiors decline, however, because his son was an enemy soldier, but give him the choice of one musician.  The caption chooses a bugler and using a short piece of music he found in his son’s uniform, the tune for “Taps” comes into being and has been used ever since for military funerals.

The Truth:

According a researcher at West Point, there is no historical evidence that anyone named Robert Ellicombe even existed in the Union army.  Master Sergeant Jari Villanueva is a part of the United States Air Force Band and is not only a historian about the tune “Taps,” but is working on an exhibit for Arlington National Cemetery about bugle calls.  Both he and Kathryn Shenkle, Historian for Arlington National Cemetery, agree that “Taps” came from Brig. General Daniel Butterfield at Harrison’s Landing in Virginia in 1862.  Sgt. Villanueva has found correspondence from both General Butterfield and a bugler which confirm the origins, although there are some minor discrepancies in their letters.   

For more information:

Sgt. Villanueva’s research

updated 07/17/12

A real example of the eRumor as it has appeared on the Internet:

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 the 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 gunfire, 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 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 a Confederate.

Out of respect for the father, they did say they could give him 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.

This music was the haunting melody we now know as “Taps” that is used at all military funerals.

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.”