Bugle Calls of the
United States Cavalry
As of January 26, 2012
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, and 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 soldier’s 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
Time and Meaning
5:50 AM - Assembly of Trumpeters for Reveille
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
6:00 AM - Reveille
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
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]
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
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
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
Morning drill was to cease.
11:30 AM - Recall from Fatigue
Morning work parties were to cease at the sound of
12:00 Noon. Dinner Call [Mess Call]
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
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
5:00 PM - Recall from Fatigue
Afternoon work parties were to cease at the sound of
5:15 PM - Assembly of Trumpeters for Retreat
Preparatory call for Retreat Parade.
5:30 PM - Assembly
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
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
6:00 PM - Retreat
The flag-lowering ceremony.
8:55 PM - Assembly of Trumpeters for Tattoo
9:00 PM - Tattoo
"Tattoo" was the signal for the men to prepare for
bed and to secure the post.
9:05 PM - Assembly
Bed check, the last roll call of the day.
9:15 PM - Taps
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:
To The Colors
MP3 - To the Color is a bugle call to render
honors to the nation. It is used when no band is
available to render honors, or in ceremonies
requiring honors to the nation more than once. To
the Color commands all the same courtesies as the
MP3 - Sound as a warning that troops are about
to be called to attention.
TO ARMS -- Signals all troops to fall under arms at
designated places without delay.
Church Call -- It is exactly the same as the French
"Church Call." It predates the Seymour revisions of
1867, having been adapted from the "Sonneries de
Chasseurs d ‘Orleans of 1845.
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
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.
History of Taps
The melody that gave the present day "Taps" was made
during the Civil War by Union General Daniel 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 "Tattoo" 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
cannoneer killed in action. Not wanting to reveal
the position of the battery, Tidball substituted
"Taps" for the three rifle volleys fired over the
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"
While there are no official words
to the bugle call "Taps", the commonly used lyrics
Fading light dims the sight,
And a star gems the sky, gleaming bright.
From afar drawing nigh -- fall 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.
1st Cavalry Division Bugler at Ft Bliss,
CPT MP USAR (Ret)
Police Company Association
626 1/2 South 9th
(765) 962 4627 phone