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Bugle Calls

In the Civil War, soldiers trained for months by bugle call before they ever got sent out in the field, so every soldier knew every call.  During the noise of battle, the commanding officers often couldn't be heard and sometimes it was dangerous or simply impossible for brigade commanders to send orders to various units, so the bugle was necessary.  Here's everything you need to know:

General Calls

  Name Explanation Lyrics

The Reveille

There has been much discussion regarding this call. Due to some new books containing memoirs and diary entries written by buglers and other field musicians during the war. It has been decided this call was truly used to awaken the men for the beginning of their day. The reference in John Billings HARDTACK and COFFEE about roll call being taken after reveille was most likely in regards to the Drum and Fife reveille, which is the signal for troops to begin to assemble for morning roll call. Oliver Norton wrote he remembered hearing the brigade bugler sound the brigade call followed by reveille, and echoed by regimental buglers sounding the regimental calls then reveille. Command “

I can't get 'em up, I can't get 'em up,
I can't get 'em up, I tell you.
I can't get 'em up, I can't get 'em up
I can't get 'em up at all.

The corporal's worse than the private,
the sergeant's worse than the corporal,
the lieutenant's worse than the sergeant,
But the captain's worst of all.
I can't get 'em up, I can't get 'em up,
I can't get 'em up this morning.
I can't get 'em up, I can't get 'em up,
I can't get 'em up today.


Breakfast Call Sounded immediately after morning role call or when breakfast is prepared. Command “Sound Breakfast Call”

Break Fast...Come and get your peas
Breakfast...Come and get your peas
Breakfast is the time of day for all to drink their coffee
Beef and bread and marmalade, Oh! what a taste delight!
Breakfast...come and get your peas!


Officer's Call
This call was used to assemble officers in camp or on the field when presence was required by the Commanding officer.
Command “Bugler Sound Officers Call”
They're the biggest brASSes in
dear Mr. Lincoln's Arrr Mee [They're the sharpest dressers in...] eatin' all the suttler's food while [and] hiding
behind the lines!

Dinner Call
Signal for afternoon meal

First Call (Attention)
This call is used to alert the troops to begin to suit up and prepare for
Assembly. At ACWA events we will use Attention  (This will serve as our first call to prepare for battles)
Command – “Bugler Sound the First Call”
I know your are tired, but still you
must go. Off to Atlanta [Virginia]to see the big show!

Attention, attention, attention to all. You'd best be heeding this bu-ge-ler's call!

Put on your leathers and pick up your gun, now's not the time to be thinking of fun!


Second Call (Assembly)
This call was used to assemble troops in the company streets and prepare on
the next call to begin to move to their assigned destination on the color line. (Also for our reenacting purposes will serve as second call)
Command – “Bugler Sound Second Call”
We are the strongest men in the who-ole wide world!

[straightest shots], etc.

CAREFUL...this can [and should] get pretty RAUNCHY!


Third Call (To the Color)
Used to bring Companies to the color line, form battle line, Battalion
dress parade and inspections, and to honor the national colors.
Command "Bugler Sound To The Color"


Attention - Battalion
Assume the position of the soldier (the position of attention). I know your are tired, but still you
must go. Off to Atlanta [Virginia]to see the big show!

Attention, attention, attention to all. You'd best be heeding this bu-ge-ler's call!

Put on your leathers and pick up your gun, now's not the time to be thinking of fun!


Recall
Used in camp as well as battle to summon men to battalion for further
instruction. This call can also be used to dismiss men from an activity
such as morning drill. Also used to bring detached companies back to
the Main Battalion or Reserve.
Reenactors use this to signal end of battle.  Command “Bugler Sound Recall”
Come back here now, come back here now.

Co-ome, Co-ome, Co-me back here now


Church Call
This was used as a call to worship. It was also used to call a truce between sides. Come to the church and say your
Prayers! Time for Church

Come and pray, come and pray

come to the church NOWWWWWW


Supper
Is the same call as Dinner (lunch). Tells the troops to gather at the mess tents or to
being making their own supper.


Tattoo
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".

Extinguish Lights
Until 1862 this was signal to cease all activity for the evening.

Gentle men it's time to Ex Ting guish lights, snuff out your lamps and go to sleep!

Gen tle men it's time to Ex Ting guish lights,

snuff out your lamps and go to sleep!


Taps

After 1862 TAPS gradually replaced To Extinguish Lights. This call was
arranged by General Daniel Butterfield and his Chief Bugler Oliver Wilcox Norton
(for more information on TAPS please visit www.tapsbugler.com)

There is a lot of debate over Taps, whether it was actually written earlier or whether it was used at all.  Army manuals from well after the Civil War still use Extinguish Lights.  The truth is that the bugle manual was not very well standardized during the Civil War and many individual buglers did things differently.  It wasn't until after the Civil War that ALL buglers were sent to field music school.

The original version was purely instrumental, but there have been
several later lyrics added. The first, written by Horace Lorenzo Trim,
is shown below:

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 lakes, from the hills, from the sky
All is well, safely rest;
God is nigh.

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

Skirmish Calls

  Name Explanation Lyrics

Quick Time
110 steps to the minute
Command "At the Quick step"
Well, it's time to march and it's time to march

so let's Pick up the pace boys and step right out


Deploy as Skirmishers
Sounded to activate the skirmisher company. Command "As skirmishers …march" Deploy as skir-mi-shers, skir-mi-shers, skir-mi-shers,

Deploy as skir-mi-shers, skir-mi-shers, NOW


Forward March
On the command forward the bugler will begin to sound this call. When the command march is called the call will be completed. The purpose for this is to allow the color company to move forward it's six paces on the command march the main body of men move forward. Command "Forward ...March" Swing your legs, Swing your legs, swing your little leggies;

Swing your legs, Swing your legs, swing 'em real fast


Retreat
This call signaled soldier to fall back to the main force while facing the enemy. Command "In Retreat March" Fight your way Back, Fight your way Back, keep up the FI-RE

but don't turn your back


Halt
Whenever troops were moving in any direction this call was used to bring them to a halt. Command "Halt"

By the Right Flank
Troops will turn 90 degrees to the right and continue to march. The last note ascends. Command "By the right flank ...march" Forward +To the RIGHT! To the RIGHT!

By the Left Flank
Troops will turn 90 degrees to the left and continue to march. The last note descends. Command "By the left flank ….march" ForwardTurn-to the LEFT! Turn-to the LEFT!

Change Direction to the Right
This would signal a body of men to wheel to the right while continuing to march. When moving to the right the last note ascends. Command "by file right …march." A Whe-el A Whe-el it's time to go merry-go ro-und Whe-el Right! Whe-el Right

Change Direction to the Left
This would signal a body of men to wheel to the left while continuing to march. When moving to the left the last note descends. Command "by file right …march." A Whe-el A Whe-el it's time to go merry-go ro-und Wheel..To the Left! Wheel..To the Left!

Lie Down
This command ordered troops to lie down. Command " Lie Down." Li ie down

Rise Up
This command was used to order troops to rise up either to advance or fire on the enemy. Command "Rise Up" Ri-ise UP

Fire
This command was the signal for troops to begin firing their weapons. Command "Commence Fire"

Cease Fire
When this call was sounded it was for soldiers to cease firing their weapons. Command "Cease Fire" Cease Fire! Cease Fire! Cease Fire! Cease Fire!

During the war, the chief bugler from every unit was sent to the field music school on Governor's Island in New York.  Once the chief bugler was trained, he was sent back to his unit to train the other buglers.  The music school used several manuals which mainly focused on fife and drum, but at least one manual included bugle calls as well: Howe's Fife and Drum Instructor.  Bugle calls are at the very end.  This is the closest thing to an "official" Civil War-era bugle manual I've been able to find.

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