Butterfield’s lullaby: 24 simple notes that carry a lot of weight

by | May 27, 2024 | 5 Ag Stories, News

If you slept through history class, you did not miss anything about General Daniel Butterfield. Nobody really talks about him. However, there is not an American who does not know at least something about him, even if they do not realize it.

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General Butterfield enlisted in service during the American Civil War and soon worked his way up to the high echelons of command. When Joe Hooker took over the command of the Army of the Potomac, General Butterfield was his Chief of Staff. This is where Butterfield gets the worst of his reputation. He and Hooker were known to have some wild parties. Your homework will be to look up those stories in your own time.

However, one thing that you may not know is that General Butterfield was also an avid military innovator. He wrote the 1862 Army Field Manual. He also developed the practice of unit insignias on uniforms to identify a soldier’s place in the army. He also liked to write bugle calls.

After the battles of the Seven Days in 1862 when General Butterfield, then only a brigade commander, was experimenting with a bugle call for “lights out”. The General reworked some French bugle calls and rearranged his own composition of just 24 notes. Only 24 notes. Actually, they are only four distinctly different notes: low G, middle C, E, and high G.

Once arranged, Butterfield gave the notes to his bugler, Oliver W. Norton of the 83rd Pennsylvania Volunteers. Norton became the first person to play the arrangement. Within months, camps on both the Union and Confederate sides of the battlefield were using this call to signal that the day was done.

General Butterfield also suggested using the call at the end of a military burial, to replace the firing of three volleys. While the practice of firing three volleys of seven guns is still used, the bugle call was also added. Even to this day, you will still hear Butterfield’s Lullaby played when a soldier is given his final order: to rest from the duty he or she so nobly performed. The duty that so many soldiers never returned home from.

Today is the day that we will hear Butterfield’s Lullaby ringing out from cemeteries, city parks, schools, courthouses, and some church lawns. On Memorial Day, it is customary to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedoms. Many communities also use it as a time to remember their veterans who came home but are no longer with us.

High School Band trumpeters or members of the local American Legion or VFW sound the hallowed tune that is instantly recognizable to the American ear. We no longer call it “Butterfield’s Lullaby.” Now, those simple 24 notes are known as “Taps.”

Happy Memorial Day. Please join me in saluting the service members of our history who never came home, and the families of those left behind.