Why Taps is Played at a Military Funeral

A veteran’s funeral is full of symbolism and reverence, befitting a hero who put country before life and honor before comfort. That’s why a military funeral traditionally features a flag-draped casket, an honor guard and the firing of a rifle volley.  

But why is taps part of the tradition? 

“Taps” has an interesting origin rooted in the Civil War. Bugle calls have long been used to communicate with soldiers in the field, indicating times to wake up, eat, report for drills, return to their units and so on.  

Starting in about 1835, a bugle call known as “Extinguish Lights” was played at the end of the day to let soldiers know it was time to go to bed.  

In 1862, United States General Daniel Butterfield decided he was dissatisfied with that particular bugle call. He wanted to come up with something more melodious, so he reworked an existing call known as “Scott Tattoo” into the 24-note tune we know today as “Taps”. It wasn’t known as “Taps” until 1891, but under the name “Extinguish Lights,” it quickly became popular throughout the Army, and even the Confederates began to use it.  

Shortly after this, “Taps” was played for the first time at a military funeral. A Union cannoneer had been killed in action, and his commanding officer, Captain John Tidball, didn’t want to have the traditional firing of three rifle volleys over the soldier’s grave because he feared it would give away their position to the enemy. Instead, he asked the bugler to play “Taps.” Since then, this haunting bugle call has been a staple of American military funerals. When it’s played, it’s customary for those in uniform to salute and for all others to place their hands over their hearts.  

At Evergreen Mortuary and Cemetery, we offer veterans’ funerals with full honors, including taps. If you’re planning a funeral for an honorably discharged veteran, talk to us about all we have to offer, from a complimentary burial space in selected areas to a free bronze Veteran’s memorial provided by the Veterans Administration. Immediate family members of veterans may also be eligible for discounts. For more information, call us at (520) 257-4831 or follow the links on our Veterans’ Services page.