“Day Is Gone”

“And it came to pass, that, when the sun went down…it was dark…” (Gen. 15:17)

     INTRO.:  A song which talks about that time of day when the sun goes down and it becomes dark is “Day Is Gone.”  The text is an anonymous but familiar version for the Army bugle call “Taps.”  Of all the military bugle calls, none is so easily recognized or more apt to render emotion than the call Taps. The melody is both eloquent and haunting and the history of its origin is interesting and somewhat clouded in controversy. In the British Army, a similar call known as Last Post has been sounded over soldiers’ graves since 1885, but the use of Taps is unique with the United States military, since the call is sounded at funerals, wreath-layings, and memorial services.  Taps began as a revision to the signal for Extinguish Lights (Lights Out) at the end of the day. Up until the Civil War, the infantry call for Extinguish Lights was the one set down in Tactics by Silas Casey (1801-1882).  This had been borrowed from the French. The tune (Taps or Bugle Call) for Taps was adapted by Union General Daniel Adams Butterfield, who was born October 31, 1831, in Utica, NY.  After he graduated from Union College at Schenectady, he was the eastern superintendent of the American Express Company in New York when the Civil War broke out. Despite his lack of military experience, he rose quickly in rank. A Colonel in the 12th Regiment of the New York State Militia, he was promoted to Brigadier General and given command of a brigade of the V Corps of the Army of the Potomac. The 12th served in the Shenandoah Valley during the the Bull Run Campaign. During the Peninsular Campaign Butterfield served prominently during the Battle of Gaines Mill.  Despite an injury, he seized the colors of the 83rd Pennsylvania and rallied the regiment at a critical time in the battle. Years later, he was awarded the Medal of Honor for that act of heroism.  As the story goes, General Butterfield was not pleased with the call for Extinguish Lights feeling that the call was too formal to signal the day’s end and with the help of the brigade bugler, Oliver Willcox Norton, wrote Taps to honor his men while in camp at Harrison’s Landing, Virginia, following the Seven Day’s battle which took place during the Peninsular Campaign of 1862. The call, intended for his brigade (Third Brigade, First Division, Fifth Army Corps, Army of the Potomac) and sounded that night in July, 1862, soon spread to other units of the Union Army and was even used by the Confederates. Taps was made an official bugle call after the war.

     A highly romantic account of how Butterfield composed the call surfaced in 1898 following a magazine article written that summer. The August, 1898 issue of Century Magazine contained an article called "The Trumpet in Camp and Battle," by Gustav Kobbe, a music historian and critic. In writing about the origin of bugle calls in the Civil War, with reference to Taps, he wrote, "In speaking of our trumpet calls I purposely omitted one with which it seemed most appropriate to close this article, for it is the call which closes the soldier’s day. . . . Lights Out. I have not been able to trace this call to any other service. If it seems probable, it was original with Major Seymour, he has given our army the most beautiful of all trumpet-calls."  Kobbe was using as an authority the Army drill manual on infantry tactics prepared by Major General Emory Upton in 1867 (revised in 1874). The bugle calls in the manual were compiled by Major (later General) Truman Seymour of the 5th U.S. Artillery. Taps was called Extinguish Lights in these manuals since it was to replace the Lights Out call disliked by Butterfield. The title of the call was not changed until later, although other manuals started calling it Taps because most soldiers knew it by that name. Since Seymour was responsible for the music in the Army manual, Kobbe assumed that he had written the call. Kobbe’s inability to find the origin of Extinguish Lights (Taps) prompted a letter from Oliver W. Norton in Chicago who claimed he knew how the call came about and that he was the first to perform it, saying, "I did not presume to question General Butterfield at the time, but from the manner in which the call was given to me, I have no doubt he composed it in his tent at Harrison’s Landing."   When contacted, Butterfield said that this story was substantially correct, recalling that he "the call of Taps did not seem to be as smooth, melodious and musical as it should be, and I called in some one who could write music, and practiced a change in the call of Taps until I had it suit my ear, and then, as Norton writes, got it to my taste."  Butterfield never went out of his way to claim credit for its composition.  Probably he did not compose Taps but actually revised an earlier bugle call known as Tattoo.

      Following the Peninsular Campaign, Butterfield served at 2nd Bull Run, Antietam and at Marye’s Heights in the Battle of Fredericksburg. Through political connections and his ability for administration, he became a Major General and served as chief of staff of the Union Army of the Potomac under Generals Joseph Hooker and George Meade.  Later in the war, Butterfield was wounded at Gettysburg and then reassigned to the Western Theater. By war’s end, he was breveted a brigadier general and stayed in the army after the Civil War, serving as superintendent of the army’s recruiting service in New York City and colonel of the 5th Infantry. In 1870, after resigning from the military, Butterfield went back to work with the American Express Company but was in charge of a number of special public ceremonies, including General William Tecumseh Sherman’s funeral in 1891. Besides his association with Taps, Butterfield also designed the system of Corps Badges, which were distinctive shapes of color cloth sewn on to uniforms to distinguish units, and died on July 17, 1901. Taps was sounded at his funeral.  His tomb is the most ornate in the cemetery at West Point despite the fact that he never attended. There is also a monument to Butterfield in New York City near Grant’s Tomb. It must be pointed out that other stories of the origin of Taps exist. A popular one is that of a Northern boy who was killed fighting for the south. His father, Robert Ellicombe a Captain in the Union Army, came upon his son’s body on the battlefield and found the notes to Taps in a pocket of the dead boy’s Confederate uniform. When Union General Daniel Sickles heard the story, he had the notes sounded at the boy’s funeral. There is no evidence to back up the story or the existence of Captain Ellicombe. Although Butterfield merely revised an earlier bugle call, his role in producing those 24 notes gives him a place in the history of music as well as the history of war.

    As soon as Taps was sounded that night in July of 1862, words were put with the music. The first were, "Go To Sleep, Go to Sleep." As the years went on many more versions were created. There are no official words to the music but here are some of the more popular verses:
1. "Day is done, gone the sun, From the hills, from the lake, From the sky.
All is well, safely rest, God is nigh."
2. "Go to sleep, peaceful sleep, May the soldier or sailor, God keep.
On the land or the deep, Safe in sleep."
3. "Love, good night, Must thou go, When the day, And the night Need thee so?
All is well. Speedeth all To their rest."
4. "Fades the light; And afar Goeth day, And the stars Shineth bright,
Fare thee well; Day has gone, Night is on."
5. "Thanks and praise, For our days, ‘Neath the sun, Neath the stars, ‘Neath the sky,
As we go, This we know, God is nigh."
Among hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church during the twentieth century for use in churches of Christ, the song, with the first stanza listed above and two others appeared in the 1937 Great Songs of the Church No. 2 edited by E. L. Jorgenson, where the music is simply listed as a "Bugle call, with chords."   For this study, I have added the fifth stanza listed above.  The only other hymnbook in which I have seen the song, with the first stanza only, is the 1937 New Hymnal for American Youth from the D. Appleton-Century Company Inc. where the text is listed as “anonymous.”

     The song gives praise to God and asks His blessings on us as the day comes to an end.

I. Stanza 1 tells us that God has given the night for rest
“Day is gone; gone the sun From the lake, from the hills, from the sky;
All is well, safely rest, God is nigh.”
 A. God set up each day to go to the evening and then to the next morning: Gen. 1:3-5
 B. That which determines the coming of each day and night is the course of the sun: Ps. 19:1-6
 C. However, even though day may be gone, God is still near and we can safely rest: Eccl. 5:12

II. Stanza 2 reminds us that God created the stars for light at night
“Fading light dims the sight, And a star gems the sky, gleaming bright;
From afar, drawing nigh Falls the night.”
 A. Fading light denotes the evening: Ps. 104:23
 B. As evening comes, the stars gem the sky, as created by God with the sun and moon to give light and to provide signs and seasons: Gen. 1:14-16
 C. Then comes the night which God made for the good of life on earth: Ps. 104:19-20

III. Stanza 3 wishes each one a good night
“Then goodnight, peaceful night, Till the light of the dawn shineth bright;
God is near, do not fear; Then goodnight.”
 A. We wish each other a good and peaceful night of sleep: Ps. 127:2
 B. Whatever may be our lot through the night, we can look forward to the light of the dawn in the morning: Ps. 30:5
 C. The reason that we do not fear the night is that God is near to watch over and protect us: Ps. 121:4-6

IV. Stanza 4 offers thanks to God for His blessings of both day and night
"Thanks and praise, For our days, ‘Neath the sun, ‘Neath the stars, ‘Neath the sky,
As we go, This we know, God is nigh."
 A. So even as the sun goes down, it is good to give thanks to God: Ps. 92:1-2
 B. As we see the sun setting and the stars rising beneath the sky, we know again that God has created them for our good: Ps. 136:7-9
 C. And we have assurance from this same God that He is near and will watch over our sleep: Prov. 3:19-24

     CONCL.:  Some might question whether this song is acceptable as a hymn or not.  The mere fact that a song mentions God does not necessarily make it suitable for worship.  However, many hymns have been written about the evening time, and this song still reminds us to think about God and His blessings when “Day Is Gone.”


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