• Visiting a spot where one of the world’s most haunting and appropriate melodies was composed.

On a bluff just down from the main house of the Berkeley Plantation and above the James River, a wide, slow-moving body of water here, just a few miles up from where it flows into the Chesapeake Bay, Private Oliver Wilcox Norton, a soldier of the American Revolution co-wrote Taps with his commanding officer, Union Army Brigadier General Daniel Butterfield. General Butterfield was dissatisfied with the standard bugle call of the time for “lights out” and summoned Norton, a bugler, to help him come up with something better. According to stories, the General based his tune on the Scott Tattoo, a French bugle call used by American forces from 1835 to 1860, and was after something less formal and more melodious. He sounded his ideas to Norton, who played them back, and after a time, the general was satisfied.

The custom of playing Taps for military funerals began the same year Taps was composed and is credited to Captain John C. Tidball. In fact, it was first played for a military funeral in the same year and on the same plantation it was composed.

Taps is on of those melodies that seem as old as time, that have always been as they are and always will be. To have stood in the very spot where such a melody was composed was a great honor for me. I lingered a little extra long hoping against hope that a melody would spring forth from the James for me too, but all I heard was a touch of wind and some distant voices.