"Taps," that haunting, sad and all-too-familiar tune, was composed by Union Army Brigadier General Daniel Butterfield, a Civil War general who commanded the 3rd Brigade of the 1st Division in the V Army Corps of the Army of the Potomac. According to Wikipedia, he wrote the tune in 1862 while at Harrison's Landing, Virginia.
There are several myths about the history of "Taps," but Oliver Norton, the bugler who first performed the tune, credited Gen. Butterfield. There is also the story of how it came to be used at military funerals.
According to an officer's manual initially published in 1911, Army Col. James A Moss reported the following:
"During the Peninsular Campaign of 1862, a soldier of (Union artillery captain John C.)Tidball's Battery A of the 2nd Artillery was buried at a time when the battery occupied an advanced position concealed in the woods. It was unsafe to fire the customary three volleys over the grave, on account of the proximity of the enemy, and it occurred to Capt. Tidball that the sounding of Taps would be the most apprpriate ceremony that could be substituted."
This was the first recorded instance of the song being used for a military funeral.
During the playing of "Taps," individuals in uniform salute - others place their right hand over their heart.
There are no official lyrics because the original was purely instrumental, but below is the most common version.
Fading light dims the sight
And a star gems the sky, gleaming bright
From afar, drawing nigh,
Falls the night.
Day is done, gone the sun
From the lake, from the hills, from the sky.
All is well, safely rest;
God is nigh.
Then goodnight, peaceful night;
Till the light of the dawn shineth bright.
God is near, do not fear,
An additional verse:
Thanks and praise, for our days
Neath the sun, neath the stars, neath the sky.
As we go, this we know,
God is nigh.
As we gather with our families for this holiday weekend, may we never forget those who made our freedom and our way of life possible.