It occurred to me that while many people might be watching the Reagan funeral this evening, many of you might not know or remember the origins of many of the military traditions. I will continue to update these as they occur.
1.) Origin of the 21 Gun Salute–
The use of gun salutes for military occasions is traced to early warriors who demonstrated their peaceful intentions by placing their weapons in a position that rendered them ineffective. Apparently this custom was universal, with the specific act varying with time and place, depending on the weapons being used. A North African tribe, for example, trailed the points of their spears on the ground to indicate that they did not mean to be hostile.
The tradition of rendering a salute by cannon originated in the 14th century as firearms and cannons came into use. Since these early devices contained only one projectile, discharging them once rendered them ineffective. Originally warships fired seven-gun salutes–the number seven probably selected because of its astrological and Biblical significance. Seven planets had been identified and the phases of the moon changed every seven days. The Bible states that God rested on the seventh day after Creation, that every seventh year was sabbatical and that the seven times seventh year ushered in the Jubilee year.
Land batteries, having a greater supply of gunpowder, were able to fire three guns for every shot fired afloat, hence the salute by shore batteries was 21 guns. The multiple of three probably was chosen because of the mystical significance of the number three in many ancient civilizations. Early gunpowder, composed mainly of sodium nitrate, spoiled easily at sea, but could be kept cooler and drier in land magazines. When potassium nitrate improved the quality of gunpowder, ships at sea adopted the salute of 21 guns.
The 21-gun salute became the highest honor a nation rendered. Varying customs among the maritime powers led to confusion in saluting and return of salutes. Great Britain, the world’s preeminent seapower in the 18th and 19th centuries, compelled weaker nations to salute first, and for a time monarchies received more guns than did republics. Eventually, by agreement, the international salute was established at 21 guns, although the United States did not agree on this procedure until August 1875.
2.) Origin of the Riderless Horse–
When a Roman soldier died, his horse was led behind his coffin in the funeral procession. Once the marchers reached the cemetery, the soldier would be buried and his horse would be killed and buried with him not only as a tribute but also as a way of equipping him to ride into battle in the afterlife. The belief was that a horse trained for battle by its rider could not have two masters, and as a result, the horse was retired. The addition of the boots appears to be of later origin. The belief is that the empty boots signify that their owner is gone and that with boots in the stirrups, no one else can ride the horse. The riderless horse in today’s procession is simply a ceremonial reflection of an ancient military tradition. No animals are harmed.
3.) Why Are Flags Draped on the Casket–
This custom began during the Napoleonic Wars (1796-1815). The dead carried from the field of battle on a caisson were covered with flags. When the U.S. flag covers the casket, it is placed so the union blue field is at the head and over the left shoulder. It is not placed in the grave and is not allowed to touch the ground. The flags that draped the caskets of the Unknown Soldiers are on display in the Memorial Display Room of the Memorial Amphitheater.
4.) What is the ominous sounding drum solo during the procession to the Capitol Rotunda? – That is known as the Funeral Dirge, with muffled drums.
5.) What is the origin of TAPS?- Well, contrary to what you read on the internet, it has nothing to do with a father and son meeting on the battlefield in the Civil War.
6.) Are there words to TAPS?- Yes. Words were put to the music after TAPS was sonded out. The lyrics are:
“Day is done, gone the sun,
From the hills, from the lake,
From the skies.
All is well, safely rest,
God is nigh.
Go to sleep, peaceful sleep,
May the soldier or sailor,
On the land or the deep,
Safe in sleep.
Love, good night, Must thou go,
When the day, And the night
Need thee so?
All is well. Speedeth all
To their rest.
Fades the light; And afar
Goeth day, And the stars
Fare thee well; Day has gone,
Night is on.
Thanks and praise, For our days,
‘Neath the sun, Neath the stars,
‘Neath the sky,
As we go, This we know,
God is nigh.”
7.) Why is the Flag hlown at half-staff?- This is all I could find:
The earliest record we have of the lowering of a flag to signify a death was an occasion in 1612, when the Master of the ‘Hearts Ease’, William Hall, was murdered by Eskimos while taking part in an expedition in search of the North West Passage. On rejoining her consort, the vessel’s flag was flown trailing over the stern as a mark of mourning. On her return to London, the ‘Hearts Ease’ again flew her flag over the stern and it was recognised as an appropriate gesture of mourning.
It was the habit, after the restoration of the Monarchy in 1660, for ships of the Royal Navy to fly their flags at half-mast on the anniversary of the execution of King Charles I on 30th January 1649, and it is from this custom that, so far as we can trace, the present practice of announcing a death by the flying of a flag at half-mast has evolved. The earlier pracice at sea was to fly a black flag or to set a black sail.
We know that the hoisting of black sails was a sign of mourning from the very earliest times. The black sail was superseded by the black flag, probably because it was a nuisance to have to carry black sails for use only on rare occasions. It was probably the position,rather than the colour, that caught the attention, particularly at a distance.
8.) When did the tradition of lying in state in the Capitol Rotunda start, and who has had this honor?-
The Rotunda of the United States Capitol, completed in 1824, has since been considered the most suitable place for the nation to pay final tribute to its most eminent citizens by having their remains lie in state or in honor. These occasions are either authorized by a congressional resolution or approved by the congressional leadership, when permission is granted by survivors.
I will post more as they occur. IF you find anyany factual errors, please let me know. I am working on memory to confirm what I found on the net, and as you are all well aware, I make mistakes.
I assume you mean the procession. The funeral is Friday.
Aside from that nitpick, this is some great info. Thanks!
The phrase ‘half-mast’ has no meaning. The correct term is ‘half-staff’.
I have heard both half-mast and half-staff, but I will take your word.
Dont know if they fire 3 volleys at a President’s funeral. At normal military funerals they fire 3 volleys of 7 guns ( believe the President gets cannons). Anyway they fire 3 volleys to honor the old roman tradition of saying farewell to a fallen comrade 3 times.
If you are really interested in other tidbits you may be able to contact Arlington and ask them. They probably have the info in a phamphlet. Plus I am fairly sure that the “Old Guard” (which guards the tomb of the unknown are going to be the ones performing the ceremony.
Seven gun — many of the early ships armed with “great guns” (cannons) had only one deck with guns — typically the maindeck.
The early ships were small enough that this space only provided room for a broadside of seven guns. I believe this is the reason why ships fired seven guns — that would empty a broadside. (And it took 30 minutes to reload a gun back then.)
Later on, 14 guns per side per deck became common. With two complete gundecks and six additional guns on the quarterdeck and forecastle you got 74 guns — the standard ship-of-the-line for nearly 200 years.
“And it took 30 minutes to reload a gun back then.”
I think you mean 3 minutes. Or less:
Does anyone know the title and composer of the orchestral piece that was played as the casket was being removed from the National Cathedral?
The music was recently made better known at the end of the movie “We Were Soldiers” and is part of the End Credits track of the film soundtrack CD.
The tune is called “The Mansions of the Lord” and a anthem based on a poem by Randall Wallace and put to music.
“To fallen soldiers let us sing
Where no rockets fly nor bullets wing
Our broken brothers let us bring to the Mansions of the Lord
No more bleeding, no more fight
No prayers pleading through the night
Just divine embrace, eternal light
In the Mansions of the Lord.
Where no mothers cry and no children weep;
We will stand and guard though the angels sleep
Through the ages safely keep
The Mansions of the Lord.”
The film soundtrack is composed by Nick Glennie-Smith. Randall Wallace wrote and directed “We Were Soldiers”, who also wrote “Braveheart.”
Does anyone know the name of the piece the choir and orch. performed shortly after the funeral service started? I think it was composed by Vaugn Williams
I noticed that the casket when proceeding down the stairs outside the Capitol did not proceed between the soldiers forming the stair guard. Is there a tradition to this or did the Color guard take the wrong side.
What was the other flag displayed at Reagan funeral? The dark one that was carried in same grouping as American flag?
Thank you KHeittmann, for idenifying the Glennie-Smith composition. It is quite beautiful. I will see if I can find it.
Carolyn would like to identify a hymn used in the early part of the service. She might be referring to “Pilgrim’s Hymn” by Stephen Paulus, a Minnesota University professor of music. http://www.stephenpaulus.com/ChoralWorkPilgrimsHymn.htm
Another hymn used in the service was a particularly beautiful arrangement of “Jerusalem.” The words were not the ones found with that melody in the current Episcopalian hymnal, however. Does anyone know which words and whose arrangement we heard?
NAN wonders about the other flag. It is the flag of the President of the United States and it contains the president’s seal.
Nan, you can find the soundtrack CD to “We Were Soldiers” at a vast number of locations. Amazon.com, Best Buy, and some film score/soundtrack specialty websites like Film Score Monthy, Intrada, Varese Sarabande, Screen Archives Entertainment are places to look for most music from the movies.
When shopping, make sure you get the one marked “Original Score” and not the one marked “Original Soundtrack”. They are two completely different CDs.
The one marked “soundtrack” is a collection of songs from various artists.
The one marked “score” is the music as heard in the movie and contains the track you are looking for.
The CD track lising for the the “Original Score” is:
2. What Is War?
3. Look Around You
4. Flying High
5. First Step
6. NVA Base Camp
8. More Telegrams
9. I’ll Go With You
11. Photo Montage
12. That’s A Nice Day
14. Jack’s Death
15. Final Battle
16. Final Departure
17. End Credits ***
*** “The Mansions of the Lord”
Half-Mast is when a ship flys a flag at half-staff.
http://www.mdw.army.mil/fs-dir.htm All is explained at the above web site. Except the concept that there are words to taps. As a military bugle call, THERE ARE NO WORDS. The fact that someone made up words later is the same as making up words to reveille. “You gotta get up, You gotta get up You gotta get up in the morning.Fun maybe, but has no place in Military tradition or custom.
when does the flag go back to full staff after honoring a deceased president.