History of Funeral Traditions
Draping the Casket with the National Flag
Firing Three Rifle Volleys over the Grave
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Final Words
This custom began during the Napoleonic
Wars (1796-1815). The dead carried from the
field of battle on a caisson were covered with a
Flag Draped Casket
(photo: courtesy of Blacksphere.net)
This practice originated in the old custom of
halting the fighting to remove the dead from
the battlefield. Once each army had cleared its
dead, it would fire three volleys to indicate that
the dead had been cared for and that they were
ready to go back to the fight.
"Taps" is a call, composed by General Daniel
Butterfield, while in camp at Harrison's
Landing, Virginia, in 1862, "the Seven Days

Butterfield wrote the call to replace the earlier
"Tattoo" (lights out), which he thought too
formal. The call soon became known as "Taps"
because it was often tapped out on a drum in the absence of a bugler. Before the
year was out, sounding Taps became the practice in both Northern and Southern
camps. The call was officially adopted by the U.S. Army in 1874.

Colonel James A. Moss, in his Officer's Manual first published in 1911, gives this
account of the initial use of Taps at a military funeral.

"During the Peninsular Campaign in 1862, a soldier of 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 appropriate ceremony that could be
substituted. The custom, thus originated, was taken up throughout the Army of
the Potomac and finally confirmed by orders."