The bugle dirge that signals “lights out” and is used at funerals in the US military is called Taps. The tune dates to the US Civil War and was composed by General Daniel Butterfield and his bugler, a man named Norton, in 1862. But the word taps is older. It is a US military term for the lights out signal—or more accurately for the time of day the signal is given.
Prior to the Butterfield’s composition, the call was known as Extinguish Lights. The call would be played at taps which was the time of day—usually some period, about 15 minutes, after the Tattoo call. Extinguish Lights consisted of the first eight bars of Tattoo (which is same call of that name played today in the US Army) followed by several isolated beats on a drum—hence the name Taps.
From an 1824 document produced by the US House of Representatives:
It is his duty...to visit his rooms, at the taps; see that the lights are extinguished; the fires properly secured; the occupants present, and in bed.
(Source: Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd Edition)
Copyright 1997-2014, by David Wilton