Not far from the Malvern Hill battlefield runs a stretch of historic James River Plantations with plenty of history of their own. Foremost among them is Berkeley Plantation, where I recently made a visit in order to track down the birthplace of Taps.
Berkeley is ancestral home of the Harrison family—as in Benjamin Harrison (signer of the Declaration of Independence and governor of Virginia), William Henry Harrison (president of the United States, “Old Tippecanoe”), and Benjamin Harrison the younger (president of the United States). (Tippencanoe’s running mate, John Tyler, lived just a few miles away at a plantation called Sherwood Forest.)
During the Civil War, as Maj. Gen. George McClellan tried to evacuate from the Peninsula following seven days of brutal fighting with newly promoted Robert E. Lee, the Federal commander made his headquarters at Berkeley. Nearby Harrison’s Landing—named for the family that owned the property—made for a convenient base of supplies and extraction point for his army. While stationed there, Brig. Gen. Daniel Butterfield and bugler Oliver Willcox Norton wrote a bugle call that has become one of the most recognizable tunes in the world.
Among Berkeley Plantations several attractions—including a tour of the 1726 mansion and a shrine to the first-ever Thanksgiving—a small shaded monument to Taps overlooks the James River. A plaque explains the song’s history, and a memorial bench—dedicated on the sesquicentennial anniversary of the song’s composition—invites contemplation.
For more information, visit Berkeley Plantation’s website.