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Bugle Calls

The bugle was essential to all military communication until its displacement by electronics. The primary bugler was assigned to the headquarters staff, and kept close to the commander at the front. Soldiers were quick to learn the calls of the bugle, and on a routine day at least four, and as many as ten, were made.

Today the sound of the bugle is heard across Army Forts from early morning to late at night. Literally, the bugle regulates the soldier's day. In a bow to the modern electronic age, the calls are recorded, then broadcast on schedule through loudspeakers located around the post. Bugle calls are musical signals that announce scheduled and certain non-scheduled events on an Army installation. Scheduled calls are prescribed by the commander and normally follow the sequence shown below. Non-scheduled calls are sounded by the direction of the commander. Individual calls sometimes have interesting histories and antecedents.

The bugle was first used as a signal instrument in the American Army during the Revolutionary War. The bugle calls evolved from Continental Army contacts with the French and English armies during the Revolutionary War. These two nations have had the most effect on our present system of calls. In the early years of our nation's independence, each arm and branch of the Army developed its own set of "sound signals" - drum beats in the Infantry; bugle calls in the Cavalry and Artillery.

By the end of the Civil War the artillery, cavalry, and infantry were sounding bugle calls. In 1867, General Emory Upton directed Major Truman Seymour, 5th U.S. Artillery, to prepare a definitive system of calls with the object of eliminating the confusion evident during the Civil War. Major Seymour reviewed all the calls then in use in the Army. He discarded some, revised others, and finally fashioned the set of calls which have remained in use up to the present time. In 1867, bugle calls were standardized for all branches of the Army. The enlisted soldiers life was regulated by bugle calls: the daily routine included breakfast, dinner, and supper calls; fatigue call, drill call, stable and water calls, sick call, and taps. On Sundays, the church call was added to the daily schedule.

Times & Meaning

5:50 AM - Assembly of Trumpeters for Reveille [First Call] RM / MP3
The first signal for the soldiers to rise and shine. This call was historically sounded between 4:45 AM - and 6:00 AM - depending on the season. It bears a similarity to the French Cavalry call "La Garde a Vous."

6:00 AM - Reveille RM MP3
Upon the last note of this call, the flag was raised, the morning gun fired and the men all had to assemble for morning roll call. It is the same as a French call which dates from the time of the Crusades.

6:15 AM - Stable Call
Soldiers in the cavalry would report to the stables to feed and groom their mounts.

6:30 AM - Breakfast Call [Mess Call] RM / MP3

7:00 AM - Sick Call
Soldiers who were ill were to report to the hospital for examination by the surgeon.

7:30 AM - Fatigue Call
Those soldiers appointed to a work party would report to their assignments.

8:50 AM - Guard Mounting, Assembly of Trumpeters
First call for "Guard Mount", or the changing of the 24-hour guard detail.

8:55 AM - Guard Mounting, Assembly of Guard Detail
Men assigned to guard duty assemble in front of their respective barracks.

9:00 AM - Guard Mounting, Adjutant's Call RM / MP3
The guard details were marched to the guardhouse where the Guard Mount ceremony took place.

9:15 AM - Water Call
Horses received their watering.

9:55 AM - Drill, First Call
Preparatory call for soldiers assigned to morning drill.

10:00 AM - Drill, Assembly
Soldiers would practice the Manual of Arms, bayonet drills and marching. New recruits would be taught more basic skills.

11:00 AM - Recall from Drill RM / MP3
Morning drill was to cease.

11:30 AM - Recall from Fatigue RM / MP3
Morning work parties were to cease at the sound of this call.

12:00 Noon. Dinner Call [Mess Call] RM / MP3
Dinner was the main meal of the day.

1:00 PM - Fatigue Call
Afternoon work parties.

1:30 PM - First Sergeant;s Call
Company First Sergeant;s were to report to the post headquarters with their "Morning Reports" on the number of their men sick in the hospital, on guard duty, on drill or fatigue, or on special assignment.

2:00 PM - Mounted Drill, Boots and Saddles
This signal alerted cavalrymen to put on their riding boots and saddle their horses.

2:30 PM - Dismounted Drill
Cavalrymen are to practice all movements on foot before attempting them on horseback. This drill also allows cavalry men to prepare for battle on foot.

3:30 PM - Recall from Drill RM / MP3
Afternoon drill was to cease.

4:30 PM - Water and Stable Call
Horses received their afternoon watering and cavalrymen repeated the morning care of their horses.

5:00 PM - Recall from Fatigue RM / MP3
Afternoon work parties were to cease at the sound of this call.

5:15 PM - Assembly of Trumpeters for Retreat
Preparatory call for Retreat Parade.

5:30 PM - Assembly RM / MP3
The entire garrison would turn out for the Retreat ceremony. The actual lowering of the flag and playing of Retreat would occur at sunset.

5:45 PM - Adjutant's Call RM / MP3
The Captains march the companies (musicians playing) to the regimental parade grounds, where they take positions in the order of battle. After reporting to the senior officer present, the Retreat ceremony would commence.

6:00 PM - Retreat RM / MP3
The flag-lowering ceremony.

8:55 PM - Assembly of Trumpeters for Tattoo

9:00 PM - Tattoo RM / MP3
"Tattoo" was the signal for the men to prepare for bed and to secure the post.

9:05 PM - Assembly RM / MP3
Bed check, the last roll call of the day.

9:15 PM - Taps RM / MP3
By the final note of "Taps" all lights were to be extinguished, all men bedded down in their bunks, and all loud talking was to cease.

Additional Calls include:


Tattoo originated during the Thirty Years War, 1618-1648, and in German was called "Zapfenstreich." At 9:00 P.M., as the call was sounded, all bungs (zapfen) had to be replaced in their barrels, signifying the end of nightly drinking. The provost guard then drew a chalk line (streich) across the bung so that it could not be reopened without evidence of tampering. Tattoo is the longest U.S. Army call, consisting of twenty- eight measures. The first eight are from the French call "Extinction de Feux" and the last twenty measures are from the British "First Post" - in turn adapted from an old Neapolitan Cavalry call "Il Silencio".


The bugle call sounded at retreat was first used in the French Army and dates back to the crusades. When you hear it, you are listening to a beautiful melody that has come to symbolize the finest qualities of the soldiers of nearly 900 years. Retreat has always been at sunset and its purpose was to notify the sentries to start challenging until sunrise, and to tell the rank and file to go to their quarters and stay there. In our times the ceremony remains as a tradition. When you are outdoors and hear retreat played, you face toward the flag if you can see it and stand at parade rest. If the flag is not within sight. then face toward the music.

The History of Taps

The melody that gave the present day "Taps" was made during the Civil War by Union General Danial Adams Butterfield, in command of a brigade camped at Harrison Landing, Virginia, near Richmond. Up to that time, the U.S. Army infantry call to end the day was the French final call "L'Extinction des feux". General Butterfield decided the "lights out" music was too formal to signal the end of the day. One day in July 1862, he recalled the "Tatoo" music and hummed a version of it to an aide who wrote the melody down. Butterfield asked the brigade bugler, Oliver W. Norton, to play the notes, and after listening, he lengthened and shortened them while keeping the original melody. Thereafter, General Butterfield ordered Norton to play this new call at the end of each day instead of the regular call. The music was heard and appreciated by the other brigades, who asked for copies and adopted it for own use. It was even adopted by the Confederates.

The first time "Taps" was played at a military funeral may have been in Virginia, soon after Butterfield composed it. Union Captain John Tidball, head of an artillery battery, ordered it played for the burial of a connoneer killed in action. Not wanting to reveal the position of the battery, Tidball substituted "Taps" for the three rifle vollys fired over the grave.

Major Seymour, in 1867, was evidently not aware of General Butterfield's composition. The major did not include it in his system of calls, and it was not officially adopted until 1874. Considered to be the most beautiful of calls, Taps provides a fitting close to the soldier's day, and when the time comes, to his or her final departure from the ranks. The melody was made the official Army bugle call after the war, but was not given the name "Taps" until 1874.

Source "U.S. Army Military District of Columbia Fact Sheet"

Taps' Lyrics

While there are no official words to the bugle call "Taps", the commonly used lyrics are:

Fading light dims the sight,
And a star gems the sky, gleaming bright.
From afar drawing nigh -- Falls the night.

Day is done, gone the sun,
From the lake, from the hills, from the sky;
All is well, safely rest, God is nigh.

Then good night, peaceful night,
Till the light of the dawn shineth bright;
God is near, do not fear -- Friend, good night.


Retreat is a daily ceremony held at all army installations as the national flag is lowered at the end of the work day. It is scheduled at a definite time in late afternoon: the precise time left to the discretion of the installation commander. At fort monmouth the time designated is 1700 hours (5:00 pm). The ceremonies of retreat in the afternoon, coupled with reveille in the morning constitute a dignified homage to the national flag from its raising to its lowering. The bugle call "retreat" is sounded just before the actual lowering of the flag. At the last note of this call, a cannon is fired. Then, if a band is present, the national anthem will be rendered. In the absence of a band, the bugle call "to the colors" is substituted. As the anthem, or "to the colors" is sounded, the flag is lowered. The lowering of the flag will be regulated so as to be completed with the last note of the music. All personnel within sight or sound of the ceremony will come to attention and render the appropriate salute, facing the flag. Vehicular traffic will come to a halt, and the driver or individual in charge of the vehicle will dismount to render honors. The retreat ceremony is known to have been in use in the American army since the revolutionary war. At that time it was sounded by drums-the normal musical instrument found in the infantry units of that period. The history of the evening gun is much older. Initially it was not connected with a flag lowering. One legend has it that it was initially fired to drive away evil spirits. That would put its origin back in the middle ages when gunpowder was introduced into europe, and much earlier in the orient. It seems logical in more modern times that the firing of a gun near sunset was intended to call the troops back to the fort or camp from their fatigue duties of the day. The booming of the cannon could be heard at a greater distance than the sound of either drum or bugle. Finally, a parade can be held in conjunction with the retreat ceremony. The combination of ranks of smartly uniformed troops, the sound of the evening gun and the band playing the national anthem constitutes one of the most inspiring of United States Army ceremonies.

Sources and Resources

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Maintained by Robert Sherman
Originally created by John Pike
Updated Tuesday, May 23, 2000 5:02:23 PM