Following are lists of bugle calls a young cavalry trooper may have heard throughout his busy day in garrison, during a march, or on campaign. Where I could find them, the ditties that accompanied each bugle call so the men could remember them are included, along with the command to execute each order if there is one. Click each link where available to hear the bugle call. Click the back button on your browser to return to the list.
0550 First Call – Assembly of Trumpeters for Reveille. Sound as a warning that personnel will prepare to assemble for a formation. 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.”
0600 Reveille – Signals the troops to awaken for morning roll call. Used to accompany the raising of the National Colors. 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.
0615 Stable Call – Soldiers in the cavalry would report to the stables to feed and groom their mounts.
0630 Breakfast Call – Signals morning mealtime.
0700 Sick Call – Signals all troops needing medical attention to report to the dispensary.
0730 Fatigue Call – Those soldiers appointed to a work party would report to their assignments.
0850 First Call Assembly of Trumpeters for Guard Mount, or the changing of the 24-hour guard detail.
0855 Guard Mounting – Assembly of Guard Detail. Men assigned to guard duty assemble in front of their respective barracks.
0900 Adjutant’s Call – The guard details were marched to the guardhouse where the Guard Mount ceremony took place.
0915 Watering Call – Horses received their watering.
0955 First Call – Drill, preparatory call for soldiers assigned to morning drill.
1000 Drill Call – Sound as a warning to turn out for drill. Soldiers would practice the Manual of Arms, bayonet drills and marching. New recruits would be taught more basic skills.
1100 Recall – Signals morning drills to cease.
1130 Recall – Signals morning work parties to cease.
1200 Dinner Call – Signals noon mealtime.
1300 Fatigue Call – Afternoon work parties.
1330 First Sergeant’s Call – Company First Sergeants 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.
1400 Boots And Saddles – Mounted Drill. This signal alerted cavalrymen to put on their riding boots and saddle their horses.
1430 Dismounted Drill – Cavalrymen are to practice all movements on foot before attempting them on horseback. This drill also allows cavalrymen to prepare for battle on foot.
1530 Recall – Afternoon drills to cease.
1700 Recall – from Fatigue. Afternoon work parties were to cease at the sound of this call.
1715 First Call – Assembly of Trumpeters for Retreat. Preparatory call for Retreat Parade.
1730 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.
1745 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 would commence.
1800 Retreat Signals the end of the official day. 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. 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.
2055 First Call – Assembly of Trumpeters for Tattoo.
2100 Tattoo Signal for the men to prepare for bed and to secure the post. All lights in squad rooms to be extinguished and all loud talking and other disturbances to be discontinued within 15 minutes. 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”.
2105 Assembly – Bed check, the last roll call of the day.
2115 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. This is the last call of the day. The call is also sounded at the completion of a military funeral ceremony.
Of all the military bugle calls, none is so easily recognized or more apt to render emotion than Taps. Up to the Civil War, the traditional call at day’s end was a tune, borrowed from the French, called Lights Out. In July of 1862, in the aftermath of the bloody Seven Days battles, hard on the loss of 600 men and wounded himself, Union General Daniel Adams Butterfield called the brigade bugler to his tent. He thought “Lights Out” was too formal and he wished to honor his men. Oliver Wilcox Norton, the bugler, tells the story, “…showing me some notes on a staff written in pencil on the back of an envelope, (he) asked me to sound them on my bugle. I did this several times, playing the music as written. He changed it somewhat, lengthening some notes and shortening others, but retaining the melody as he first gave it to me. After getting it to his satisfaction, he directed me to sound that call for Taps thereafter in place of the regulation call. The music was beautiful on that still summer night and was heard far beyond the limits of our Brigade. The next day I was visited by several buglers from neighboring Brigades, asking for copies of the music which I gladly furnished. The call was gradually taken up through the Army of the Potomac.”
This more emotive and powerful Taps was soon adopted throughout the military. In 1874 It was officially recognized by the U.S. Army. It became standard at military funeral ceremonies in 1891. There is something singularly beautiful and appropriate in the music of this wonderful call. Its strains are melancholy, yet full of rest and peace. Its echoes linger in the heart long after its tones have ceased to vibrate in the air.
– from an article by Master Sergeant Jari A Villanueva, USAF.
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.
Other bugle calls used in garrison included:
Attention – Sound as a warning that troops are about to be called to attention.
Call To Quarters – Signals all personnel not authorized to be absent to their quarters for the night.
Distributions – Generally not used.
Officer’s Call – Signals all officers to assemble at a designated place.
Mail Call – Signals personnel to assemble for the distribution of mail.
Orders – Generally not used.
Stand To Horse – “Go get your horses now and form on line, if you do we’ll mount up right-on time.” Command: “Form Ranks with Horse in Hand!”
To Arms – Signals all troops to fall under arms at designated places without delay.
To The Color – 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 National Anthem.
Forward Walk – Ditty: “We’re ma-ar-ching forward and moving ahead!” Command to execute order: “At the walk…march!”
Trot – Ditty: “Trot-ah trot-ah trot-ah trot-ah trot-ah trot-ah trot-ah trot-ah trahht!” Command to execute order: “At a trot!”
Gallop – Ditty: “Gal-up-ing, gal-up-ing, gal-up-ing, boys!” Command to execute order: “At the gallop!”
Halt – Ditty: “Come to halt, stand fast men!” Command to execute order: “Company…halt”
Forward Walk – Ditty: “We’re ma-ar-ching forward and moving ahead!” Command to execute order: “At the walk…march!”
Left Turn Wheel – Ditty: “A whe-el, a whe-el, time to turn another wa-ay, turn – to the left, turn – to the left!” Command to execute order: “Left Turn!” “Left Wheel!” Note: This is only a change of direction. The beginning is often omitted for time sake.
Right Turn Wheel – Ditty: “A whe-el, a whe-el, time to turn another wa-ay, to the right, to the right!” Command to execute order: “Right Turn!” “Right Wheel!” Note: This is only a change of direction. The beginning is often omitted for time sake.
To The Left – Ditty: “To – the – left!” Command to execute order: “Left into line!” or “By fours to the left…march!” Note: This is a change of formation as well as a change of direction.
To The Right – Ditty: “Facing – to – the – right!” Command to execute order: “Right on into line!” or “By fours to the right…march!” Note: This is a change of formation as well as a change of direction.
Charge – Command to execute order: “CHARGE!!”
The Charge – Ditty: “Come on boys, with your sabers, with your saber for the charge!” Command to execute order: “CHARGE!!!”
Commence Firing – Ditty: “Com-mence fi – r- ing, com-mence fi – r- ing, com-mence fi – r- ing, my boys!” Command to execute order: “Fire!”
Cease Firing – Ditty: “Cea – ease fire, cea – ease fire, cea-ease fire!” Command to execute order: “Cease Fire!”
Disperse – Ditty: “Time to spread out and fight boys, its time to spread out and fight like hell!” Command to execute order: “Fight as Mounted Skirmishers!”
To Horse – Ditty: “Go get your horses now and form on line, if you do we’ll mount up right-on time!”
About – Ditty: “Turn it about, turn it about, turn it about boys!” Command to execute order: “Right about…march!”
Rally – Ditty: “Come back, give-it-a spur-and-a-whip-boys, give-it-a spur-and-a-whip-boys, form ranks back here!”
Retreat – Ditty: “Time to retreat, we wont be beat, but keep up the fire, no slack as we retire!”