Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Eerie Origins of "Taps"

"Taps" is perhaps the most famous musical piece related to the military. For anyone who has been to a funeral where military honors are given or for anyone whose seen a movie with a funeral scene, knows the significance of the song. It is a bitter sweet tune that can cover a wide range of emotions. You may feel a sense of lose, reverence, closure, etc, but one thing that hardly crosses your mind is where that song actually came from. The story of "Taps" has a sad origin that may be even more of a tearjerker than the notes themselves.

Like most pieces of modern Americana, "Taps" finds its origins from the Civil War. The Battle of Malvern Hill took place in Henrico County, Virginia in July of 1862. It was in the ending days of the Peninsula Campaign, and as we all know that was chalked up as a W in the Unions favor. But it was during this battle that the story of "Taps" was born. Now, it is worth noting that the origin of "Taps" is still somewhat debated, however this is the most interesting origin of the tune and "Taps" was not made the official song of military funerals until 1891, about 30 years after the Battle of Malvern Hill was over.

The Civil War is best described as a war amongst brothers, both in literal and figurative meaning.  However, it did not end with siblings, it also pitted fathers against sons as well. That is were the Ellicombe family comes into the picture. According to legend, Captain Robert Ellicombe was a Union Captain and partook at the Battle of Malvern Hill. After the smoke had cleared from the battle, Ellicombe and his men were sent on a scouting mission. During this mission, the Captain and his men stumbled across some of the deceased Confederate troops. In respect for the fallen, Ellicombe ordered that the men properly buried. While burying the fallen, a young man was discovered and to the horror of Captain Ellicombe, it was his son. The real shock of it all was that Captain Ellicombe had not spoken to his son since the outbreak of the war, as his son was, for some reason, studying music at a southern university. Prior to the war, the two spoke frequently and there was no sign of the son joining the army, let alone the Confederates. Now being his son, Ellicombe searched his son's pockets for his personal items in order to return them home to his wife with the horrible news of their son's death.

As Captain Ellicombe looked through his songs last possessions, he found mixed in a piece a scape paper with some music notes written scribbled down. The bereaved Captain then requested his companies bugler to play the tune at his son's burial, which he obliged too. The music then in some way made its way to Captain Ellicombe's commanding officer, General Daniel Butterfield. Now, Butterfield is also one to get credited for the creation of the song. He then had his bugler, Oliver Morton, fine tune the song and prepared to be taught to the entire company. The simple, yet mellisonant, tune was then passed to all the buglers within the company. It would eventually grow from a tune played during the Civil War to last sign of respect paid to soldiers around the world. But why does the Ellicombe Family fall by History's wayside?

The Ellicombe Family disappeared from History for perhaps a few reasons. First, there are no records of either of the Ellicombe men fighting in the war. Second, and hopefully not, General Butterfield stole the song and took the credit for himself. Third, perhaps since the young Ellicombe died in battle, the Ellicombe name was never passed on, ending the family name and its future significance in relation to the song. Yet, there is a fourth reason and its that the origin is still disputed between the Ellicombe, Butterfield and the John Tiball version. The Tiball version goes, he wrote the tune to replace the three gun salute. Regardless of which version you wish to believe, it is the song which is the most important. "Taps" today signifies a last sign of respect that the nation can give a fallen solider. Its simplistic, uncomplicated and somber tone can bring to tears to the coldest of men (and women). It is the last tone not simply from a brass instrument but from the service and work done by the fallen. It is a sobering arrangement symbolizing a soldier's work is finally done and can now rest at ease since he (or she) has fulfilled their duty to their nation. In a way "Taps" is our National Monument to the sacrifice of our troops from the founding of our nation, to today and beyond.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Oh Great Another Nail Biting Election.

Many of us can recall the fiasco that was the 2000 Presidential election. From the mistakes made in Florida, to actions of the media and the court cases that followed afterwards. With Election Day upon us once again, a dead heat between President Barack Obama and former Governor Mitt Romney has gripped the nation. As of today the election is a horse race, the chances for both the incumbent and candidate are equal. But like any close election talks of fraud, cheating, scandals and all other kinds of trickery are on the tongues of every person in the country. But what most people don't know is this is nothing new to History, and oddly enough the same swing state that changed the 2000 election and has the possibility of doing the same today, Florida. The Election of 1876, which most of us probably never heard of, but it shows how the political landscape has not changed in our nation over the last 136 years and how politics and politicians are more or less in the same mindset.

The election was dead even and no clear winner was in sight that November of 1876. The race between future President Rutherford B. Hayes and Governor Samuel J. Tilden would eventually go on to become and is still the most disputed Presidential Election in American History. As Election Day 1876 drew to an end Tilden had a 20 vote lead in the Electoral College, all that was left to do was pop the champagne and welcome in President Tilden...but wait. Those missing 20 votes were made up from the states of Louisiana, South Carolina and the Sunshine State, Florida. The three states votes were already in dispute and both candidates filed charges and counter suits before the dust from the election had even cleared. The issue was so out of control Congress stepped in and created a special board of inquiry better known today as an Electoral Commission to settle the dispute. It was clear that Tilden clearly won the popular vote and was pretty close to winning the Electoral College. But after review it was clear that Hayes would carry both Louisiana, with 8 Electoral votes & South Carolina and its 7 votes. This put the election at Hayes 187- Tilden 184 with all eyes now focusing on the state of Florida as it did in 2000 and possibly tonight. But this is where the story gets fishy and why it is still debated today amongst historians.

So Florida is the deciding state in the election. Its, then, 4 votes would cement the victory for Hayes or push Tilden into the White House. The Florida Electoral Commission then contacted Tilden. Knowing that Louisiana and South Carolina were in Hayes' column the commission made the Tilden campaign an offer they shouldn't have refused. The offer was to make sure Florida's votes would never end up in Hayes' favor. What would Tilden have to do for such a favor? Well just pay the commission a miserly $200, that's all. But the ever confident Tilden refused the offer, assured that he wouldn't need the favor and that under the watchful eyes of the Federal Electoral Commission no such thing would work in his favor. Yet as we know now, there was never a President Tilden, and Florida's votes went to Hayes.

So Hayes becomes President, the Electoral Commission & Electoral College trumped the popular vote. Now nothing against President Hayes and his Presidency, but it can be seen that the Electoral College really mucks up the waters of our Presidential Elections. The Electoral College was created well before the establishment of political parties and has been playing catch up ever since. But do we really need it? Again, I am not one for questioning the Founding Fathers but the Electoral College just seems a bit out dated. It does not follow the basis for a democratic system and it is a violation of political equality for both candidates and voters. The College seems to manipulate how the President is elected. In every other election, Gubernatorial, Senatorial, Congressional, Mayoral and so on, hell even in the most basic elections, Grade School Class President we teach our youth about the power of elections, but then why is it that when it comes time to electing the President of the United States we use this system? The Electoral College dropped the ball in 1824, 1876, 1888, and 2000. Yes, there is a big gap between 1888 and the year 2000, but the issues remain the same. We see how a popularly elected candidate loses because of the Electoral College and its manipulation of representation. Since the founding of this nation electoral votes have changed throughout each states history, thus changing the electoral map every so many years, so if something is every changing whey rely on it? This election is surely one of the most heated in resent history. It is a time in our nations history not seen since perhaps the Civil War. The ideals, visions and concepts for our nation are split based on party alliances, religious views, how much money is in your bank account and so on. Yet no one is focused on our nation and it's survival. In 1776 the Founders set for an experiment in democracy which today we are quicken its failure. Tonight, I truly hope no matter who wins that the United States and its citizenry is their number one priority. As for the Electoral College it may be time for it to ride off into the sunset, but that is a debate for another time.