Tuesday, July 4, 2017

My Confederate Ancestor's War Story

Someone named A.B. Poole applied for Sampson's Confederate pension in 1904. My ancestor could not read or write.  On this document Poole claims to have known Sampson for "about fifty years".  His first date of service is given as "Oct. 1861. Charleston S.C. Co. D 1st S.C. Bat. Afterwards part of 27th Reg. S.C. Vol." At this point Poole writes "I was there."  He comments that "we messed together" in reference to Sampson, for "nearly four years".  Asked when and where Sampson surrendered Poole wrote: "1865 near Wilmington N. C. at a little creek, called 'Town Creek', I believe."  Poole states that he surrendered with Sampson.
Years ago, maybe decades now, I visited the regional library and researched through microfiche to find my Confederate ancestor's Pension records. The records date from the years 1904 – 1907 and contain various details of my ancestor, including his dates of service and the units in which he primarily served during the Civil War.  This, along with other resources gathered through the years, allows me to put together a summary of his experience during the war.

My Confederate ancestor and triple-great grandfather, Sampson, was born in 1828. According to his pension records he began his service in the Southern army in October 1861. So he was 33 years old when he volunteered, not a young man by the standards of his day. He married in 1850 and had five children over the course of the next eight years.  Why he volunteered for military service at that age with children ranging from 10 years down to the age of 3 is a mystery.

I have little information to go on other than eventually he became part of Company D of the Charleston Battalion. Patrick Brennan indicates that the Battalion was formed in April 1862 (page 20) from various independent companies of troops in the Charleston area.  Company D was formed from a unit known as the Sumter Guards.  So, it is possible Sampson was part of the regular rotation of troops to garrison Fort Sumter in the early months of the war.  But, for reasons given below, I tend to think he was not a native of Charleston and joined (or was assigned to) the Battalion later.  If he was not a part of the Sumter Guards in 1861 then I have no idea where he enlisted in October of that year. Immediately after the war he lived in the area Spartanburg, SC.  Perhaps he volunteered there. All that is certain it is that it was somewhere in South Carolina. (Sampson moved to the property now in my dad's name a few years after the war. He built the house that became my grandparents house, probably in the 1880's.)

Regardless, Sampson was part of the Battalion by the time it was ordered to James Island to assume the section of Charleston's defenses there.  After weeks of picket duty the Battalion saw its first action at Sol Legare Island on June 3, 1862, when it engaged in heavy skirmishing with Union troops who were probing the island's defenses.  On June 16 the Battalion was involved in repulsing a concerted Federal attack on the Tower Battery near Secessionville.  A member of the Battalion's Company C wrote of this encounter: “On Monday morning early they attempted to take our battery by storm, three times they rushed upon us, and at one time actually made a lodgment in our battery but we drove him back at the point of bayonet.” (Brennan, page 272) 

But war is mostly monotony for a soldier; months of picket duty, guarding prisoners, policing docks, roads, fortifications, one lousy army meal after another.  The next battle my ancestor took part in was at Battery Wagner on July 18, 1863, more than a year after Secessionville.  This, however, started out as a different sort of attack.  The mass of the Union navy, in its highest concentration ever up to that point, hammered the battery for days, saving its most concentrated bombardment for this date. My ancestor got to experience thousands of explosions from large naval guns in just a few hours, apparently recklessly.

“The bombardment demolished the wooden quarters on the parade ground, driving all except the Charleston Battalion and the gun detachments into the bombproof.  Some of the Charleston Battalion found refuge in rice caskets sunk into the sand outside the battery, which provided some safety from the shower of shells. Part of the battalion remained in the work along with the artillerymen, crouched behind the parapet.  At first, the artillerymen attempted to return fire, but the shelling's intensity soon forced them to cover their cannons with sandbags.  The only reply against the land batteries came from the garrison's lone mortar, which fired one round every hour.” (Wise, page 95)

“Words fail to convey an adequate idea of the fury of this bombardment.  It transcended all exhibitions of like character encountered during the war.  It seemed impossible that anything could withstand it. More than one hundred guns of the heaviest caliber were roaring, flashing and thundering together.  Before the Federal batteries had gotten the exact range of the work, the smoke of the bursting shells, brightened by the sun, was converted into smoke wreathes and spirals which curved and eddyed in every direction; then as the fire was delivered with greater precision, the scene was appalling and awe inspiring beyond expression, and the spectacle to the lookers on was one of surpassing sublimity and grandeur.  In the language of Gen. Gilmore, 'the whole island smoked like a furnace and shook from an earthquake.' For eleven long hours the air was filled with every description of shot and shell that the magazines could supply. The light of day was almost obscured by the now darkening and sulphurous smoke which hung over the island like a funeral pall.  Still later in the afternoon as the darkness gathered and deepened did the lightnings of war increase in the vividness of their lurid and intolerable crimson which flashed through the rolling clouds of smoke and illumined the Fort from bastion to bastion with a scorching glare; clouds of sand were constantly blown into the air from bursting shells; the waters of the sea were lashed into white foam and thrown upwards in glistening columns by exploding bombs, while white sheets of spray inundated the parapet, and 'Wagner.' dripping with salt wayer, shook like a ship in the grasp of a storm.” (Twiggs, North & South Magazine, Issue #4, April 1998, page 51) Imagine Sampson being there and experiencing this horrific moment!

Then, as the day ended, the navy stopped firing. What happened next would become the climax of the film Glory. About 6,000 Union soldiers worked their way toward the Battery which was garrisoned by about 1,300 Confederates counting Sampson. As darkness fell, the 54th Massachusetts [Colored] Infantry attacked the Battery's fortified walls in a historic moment.  The black troops were repulsed losing half their men.  Yet the Battery suffered other attacks from regular Union infantry regiments, some managing to actually enter the fort before finally being defeated.  The attack on Battery Wagner cost the Federals about 1,500 casualties. This was, by far, the bloodiest day thus far in my ancestor's life. But things would get worse as the war wore on, and one of his pension records mentions a “gunshot wound in both legs.” From the intensity of the fighting that might have happened at Battery Wagner – or it might have happened in any of his future battles.  Or perhaps he was wounded twice, once in each leg, in separate battles. There is no way of knowing for sure.


"...and served 3 years in Company D of 27th Regiment of S.C. Vols; that his physical condition is as follows: Gun shot wound in Both Leggs."

After the battle at Battery Wagner the Charleston Battalion was ordered to encamp near the city for rest and recuperation.  In mid-1863 Charleston was only about three-quarters of its size in 1860.  Only recently, the lower quarter of the city toward the harbor and the sea began to be shelled daily to the maximum range of the biggest Union guns at sea. (It would be shelled for 545 continuous days, an unheard of travesty today - shelling civilians. Everyone was evacuated, of course, and, while there was great destruction, almost no one died as a result of the naval guns, only homes and churches and businesses were burned out.  Much of it had also burned in The Great Charleston Fire, which Sampson almost certainly knew about.) 

Upper Charleston, however, remained a vibrant city with as robust an Antebellum life as could be found anywhere in the south. I'm sure Sampson enjoyed these weeks during his service.  It strikes me as interesting that he could not write home because he did not know how.  I doubt his wife could have read what was written either.  Perhaps, given the fact that he knew the Battalion would be stationed in Charleston, his wife and children were somewhere nearby and could visit him off duty. I can only be conjectural about his family life during the war.

By September the Battalion was on garrison duty again, this time at Fort Sumter itself, usually rotating companies of troops for a week or two in the fort.  The Union soon attacked my ancestor's position again, this time with a daring sea invasion, for which the entire Battalion was moved into Sumter.  “Admiral Dahlgren assembled 500 sailors and marines of the fleet.  On the night of September 8-9, 1863, they were put in small boats, towed within 400 yards of the fort, and cast loose. They rowed toward Sumter, unaware that they were under constant surveillance.  Instead of only a 'corporal's guard' opposing them, they were soon to find Major Elliott and the Charleston Battalion, 320 strong and anxious for a fight.

“The point of the landing was to be on the southeastern and southern face.   There was some confusion among a few of the boats, but the rest came in as planned.  Major Elliott ordered that fire be withheld until the boats were only a few yards away, when they were met with by a withering blast. Continuing gallantly on, the sailors affected a landing and sought entrance to the fort.  When they stepped ashore, they were met by a deluge of hand grenades, fireballs, brickbats and other objects, in addition to increasingly heavy fire.  The gunboat Chicora, anchored nearby, opened up on them, as did the guns from Moultrie and Johnson, which had been sighted in for just such an occurrence. Finding it impossible to scale the walls, the sailors took shelter in its recesses, but even the select men of Admiral Dahlgren's fleet could not hold out under such devastating fire....The garrison sustained no casualties, but the assaulting forces suffered a loss of 127 in killed, wounded, and prisoners, according to Elliott's report.” (Burton, pp. 195-196) 


Conrad Wise Chapman was stationed in Charleston, SC at the same time as my ancestor.  He completed this famous war painting on October 23, 1863, during the time the Charleston Battalion was maintaining the garrison.  So, there is literally about a 1 in 300 chance that the sentry in this painting is Sampson.  I have stood on Fort Sumter myself and been amazed how much this perspective remains unchanged today.  In the distance you can see the blockading ships and gunboats of the US Navy.  Whether it is Sampson or not is not really what's interesting.  For me, the most interesting part of this is that I am seeing what Sampson must have seen on several occasions throughout 1862-1863.  The Confederate flag is the Second National which was flown beginning in May 1863.
Soon after this the Charleston Battalion was combined with the 1st South Carolina Battalion Sharpshooters to form the 27th South Carolina Infantry Regiment.  The newly formed regiment was placed in the brigade of Brigadier General Johnson Hagood.  The regiment continued to supply companies of troops to Fort Sumter among other garrison assignments.  I have no way of knowing precisely where my ancestor may have served during this time, other than he must have rotated over to the fort at least 2-3 times and in between likely garrisoned the city's docks and roads.  This stopped in December 1963 and Sampson likely spent Christmas on furlough in Charleston or nearby, possibly with his family.

Going into 1864, the 27th South Carolina and the other regiments and battalions that made up Hagood's Brigade were withdrawn from front line duty and encamped on James Island.  There they were reequipped with Enfield rifles, issued new uniforms and drilled constantly.  In this manner the brigade, most of its components already experienced in battle behind fortifications, became a fully dressed and trained infantry unit, mastering all the expected maneuvers of linear combat formations on a field of battle. This affords us an opportunity to follow Sampson and the 27th South Carolina through the eyes of General Johnson Hagood, as revealed in his memoirs. 

Hagood refers to the 27th as "especially claimed by Charlestonians are their regiment" and indicates that all officers of the regiment were citizens of Charleston.  He also characterizes the regiment as being more literate and educated than typical Confederate regiments, reflecting the fact that the people of Charleston were more sophisticated in general than most of the southern population.   According to Hagood, this made the regiment more difficult to handle compared with others due to the reasoned independence of the men.  Commanders of great prowess and respect were necessary to lead it. Such a commander was Colonel P. C. Gaillard, who had managed the Charleston Battalion from the beginning.


This makes my ancestor's involvement with this regiment even more puzzling.  Since he was uneducated and illiterate, how did he come to be part of this educated and cultured unit?  Some clue is found when Hagood mentions that "...it received recruits from the country..." Which leads me believe that, while Sampson was uneducated, he possessed some particular qualities admirable to the commanders of the Battalion. Perhaps he was especially competent in drill.  Or maybe he was a superior shot.  He could have been a tradesman, able to repair the Battalion's arms and equipment. (His son, my great-great-grandfather, worked leather and made plows as indicated on some old ledgers from his business that I have in my possession.  It is very possible that Sampson taught him these things.) It seems that something must have distinguished him; which is a more likely explanation than assuming he was ever in the Sumter Guard.


In late 1863, Confederate troops began shipping out of Charleston by rail to Wilmington, NC and then on to Petersburg and Richmond, VA to reinforce General Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia, which was hard-pressed by General U.S. Grant's Overland Campaign. Hagood's troops remained in Charleston until April 28, 1864 when they began the same rail trip northward.


As fate would have it, just as the entire brigade was assembled at Petersburg, Virginia on May 7, it was immediately thrown into action at Walthall Junction against General Benjamin Butler who was attempting to strike out of Bermuda Hundred and cut the rail lines supplying Lee's army.  According to Hagood, my ancestor's regiment led the way forward and soon the entire brigade was engulfed in an attack against Butler's superior numbers – 2,600 against about 8,000, though Butler had 22,000 more men at his disposal.  The vigorous attack surprised Butler and, although Union troops succeeded in temporarily capturing a stretch of railroad, they were driven back fearing that the Confederate force was much larger than it really was.  Hagood's casualties were surprisingly light considering he was the aggressor, reflecting great timidity on the part of Butler's troops.


This was a small battle compared with the massive clashes Lee fought during this same time at the Wilderness and Spotsylvania, but the implications were nevertheless large. Lee's rail lines were secured and, more importantly, Petersburg itself was saved.  A week later Sampson found himself entrenched near Petersburg at Fort Stevens, where he was involved in repelling probing attacks. His endless drill practice the previous autumn came in handy as Hagood's brigade was involved in some complex maneuvers to adjust to Union efforts to reach beyond the extent of the Confederate defenses and hit the southerners in their flank.

Hagood was attached to General Robert Hoke's Division: 

"Hagood merely spoke with Hoke of the tactical execution of the order and proceeded to obey it. He kept the Twenty-fifth and Twenty-first regiments, which were nearest the pike, in position, to give a fire down it, and, pivoting on the right company of the Seventh battalion, moved out the Seventh battalion and the Eleventh and Twenty-seventh regiments. This was done in line, and each regiment swung round by the movement technically known as 'change direction,' thus advancing en echelon to their new position. The distance between our outer line now reoccupied by us and the enemy's line of breastworks, on the edge of the woods, was not over two hundred yards.


"The Eleventh regiment, advancing firing, was steadily approaching its position on the new line, and the Twenty-seventh, coming on upon the extreme left, struck the breastworks on the edge of the woods and drove the enemy from them at the point of impact, notwithstanding the rush of its charge was impeded by wire Entanglements just in front of the works. The increased fierceness of the enemy's fire brought the movement to a halt, the enemy assaying to charge, and failing. The position was obstinately held for a short time to permit relief by Ransom's approach, when General Hagood, standing behind the Seventh battalion, saw the Twenty-seventh regiment coming back, and ordered the Eleventh regiment and Seventh battalion back behind the outer entrenchments." Hagood, Johnson. Johnson Hagood's Memoirs of the War of Secession (Kindle Locations 4340-4355). Kindle Edition.


Hagood reported his brigade of 2,235 troops lost 433 casualties in this fight.  So, Sampson saw a great deal of fighting and bloodshed in his first week of action in Virginia. Things quieted down over the next two weeks and my ancestor, if he was not among the wounded, remained in the trenches around Petersburg. On May 31, Hagood was ordered out of the trenches, north to Richmond, as Grant was pressing the Confederate capital in a bid to end the war. Here Sampson participated in the Battle of Cold Harbor, the largest battle of his military career. 


Hagood's portion of the Confederate line was probed but not seriously attacked.  Only heavy skirmishing occurred there. Still the brigade suffered about 120 casualties.  This was minuscule compared to the main attack that took place practically within a stone's throw north of my ancestor's position.  It was there that nearly 7,000 Federal troops were gunned down in 10 minutes in what was, given the brief time frame in which it happened, the bloodiest single assault of the Civil War.  The remarkable thing is that, although this happened close to Sampson's position, he was likely unaware of magnitude of it at the time.


"This was the battle of Cold Harbor, and it may sound incredible, but it is nevertheless strictly true, that the writer of these Memoirs, situated near the center of the line along which this murderous repulse was given, and awake and vigilant of the progress of events, was not aware at the time of any serious assault having been given. As before mentioned, the firing of skirmishers in front of Hunton and Hagood had not intermitted during the night; there was no line of battle assault upon their immediate front, simply an increased pressure of skirmishers, and the roar of musketry on his right and left was so quickly over, and apparently so little commensurate with such slaughter, that it is difficult even now for him to realize that it was all done in so short a time. The explanation lies in the characteristics of a direct assault upon earthworks, defended by men who have confidence in themselves, the silent rush of the assailing party, and the rapid but deliberate and deadly fire from the assailed." Hagood, Johnson. Johnson Hagood's Memoirs of the War of Secession (Kindle Locations 4567-4574). Kindle Edition.


There was no rest for the brigade following Cold Harbor.  A new threat was posed to Petersburg. Hagood's brigade force marched back to the trenches of that city.  Another large Union force soon assailed the trenches on June 18th and was repulsed by my ancestor's unit with a loss of 220 more men. By now the brigade was down to about half its strength, so it is very possible that Sampson's "gunshot wound in both legs" occurred during his first weeks in Virginia.  But, again, this is purely conjectural.


At this point things settled down to simple trench warfare, a premonition of what World War One would be like, making the American Civil War the world's first "modern" war. This went on for weeks throughout the heat of August.  Hagood describes the conditions in detail: "The trenches themselves were filthy, and though policing was rigidly enforced, yet it was almost impossible to keep down the constant accumulation. Vermin abounded, and diseases of various kinds showed themselves. The digestive organs of the men became impaired by the rations issued and the manner in which they were prepared. Diarrhea and dysentery were universal; the legs and feet of the men swelled until they could not wear their shoes; the filth of their persons from the scarcity of water was terrible; and they presented the appearance rather of inmates of a miserably conducted poor house than of soldiers of an army. But all of this was endured; and although among the meaner class desertions occurred and even self-mutilation was resorted to in order to escape this horrid nightmare that brooded upon spirits not highly enough tempered to endure it, yet the great majority of the men stood all their sufferings with unflinching endurance, and never yielded 'till disease drove them to the field infirmary." Hagood, Johnson. Johnson Hagood's Memoirs of the War of Secession (Kindle Locations 5050-5057). Kindle Edition.


It is doubtful that Sampson escaped this time in Virginia without wound or illness.  When the brigade emerged from the trenches to participate in the Battle of Weldon Road it numbered only 700 men.  Perhaps my ancestor was in an infirmary by this time.  Or perhaps he had recovered and participated in this action. Either way, these were difficult days for him and his suffering and witness of greater suffering all around him was likely only surpassed by his bravery.  300 of the 700 who went into battle that day were killed or wounded, reflecting intense and desperate fighting. 


In September the brigade was again pulled out of the line for recuperation.  Soon after, the unit was reviewed by General Lee. Although Lee inspected the fortifications at Charleston in 1861, it is doubtful Sampson would have seen or have known who Lee was since all of his fame resided in the future at that time.  By 1864 every Confederate soldier knew Lee and glorified him.  If my ancestor was healthy he would have been present at this moment described by General Hagood:

"About the 15th of September, the other brigades of Hoke's division were relieved from the trenches and placed in reserve on the Petersburg side of the Appomattox. And on the 26th, General Lee reviewed the division, which was concentrated for the purpose for that evening. This was the only review or other military display witnessed by the writer during the campaign of '64. It was made a gala occasion by the citizens of the beleaguered town, large numbers attending. The ladies were out in full force, and many were on horseback. General A. P. Hill rode on the staff of the commanding general upon a very graceful and beautiful silver grey; and horse and rider showed gallantly. General Lee reviewed the troops rapidly and seemed bored by the ceremonial and glad to be through with it. He was in full uniform, with a quantity of yellow sash around his waist, and did not look like himself. Even his horse looked as if he thought it was all foolishness."  Hagood, Johnson. Johnson Hagood's Memoirs of the War of Secession (Kindle Locations 5314-5321). Kindle Edition.


Soon after this, Hagood again marched his men northward to Richmond and saw trench duty there. But they participated in no major battles at this time.  If he was sick or wounded my ancestor would have recovered by December 1864, for this is when Hagood's brigade boarded a rickety Confederate train to travel south again.  This time they were ordered to Wilmington, North Carolina where the intent was for them to reinforce the garrison at Fort Fisher which protected the Confederacy's last remaining port city.  Without Wilmington the blockade runners would have no port left in the South with which to bring in badly needed equipment and supplies.


It was not an easy journey for my weary Confederate ancestor.  "The troops were saturated with the freezing rain on the march to Richmond, and they were loaded on freight cars without seats or fires—the men so crowded as to preclude individual motion. The rain began to be accompanied by a high wind, and lying motionless in their wet garments, the men were whistled along on the train the balance of the day and all night. At daylight, we arrived at Danville. The suffering was intense."  Hagood, Johnson. Johnson Hagood's Memoirs of the War of Secession (Kindle Locations 5484-5486). Kindle Edition.


By January 4, 1865, Sampson was encamped outside Wilmington, awaiting orders.  Ten days later all of Hagood's brigade except for the 27th South Carolina boarded transports to reinforce Fort Fisher.  My ancestor got a reprieve and remained in camp.  Meanwhile, three transports attempted to land four regiments of Confederate troops at Fort Fisher.  Two of the craft ran aground and only one vessel was able to land a regiment, return, depart again with another regiment.  Those two regiments were added to garrison which was soon subjected to a tremendous Union naval bombardment of about 50,000 rounds, far surpassing the shelling of Battery Wagner almost two years previously. 


Fort Fisher fell and the remains of those two regiments were captured along with the rest of the garrison.  Being in camp above Wilmington, 15 miles away or so, Sampson did not experience any of this beyond the distant rumble of the naval guns. Perhaps he found the sound foreboding.  Perhaps it bothered him little after all he had been through and witnessed.  It sounded like a lot of guns, but for him it was far away.


The fall of Fort Fisher created an calamity for Wilmington and the Southern Confederacy as a whole.  Strategically speaking, the long effort by the Union to completely blockade the south was complete.  No blockade runners could now enter any southern port.  But more operationally speaking, the Confederates needed to implement new plans for the defense of Wilmington and the interior of the south while Lee's army continued trench warfare around Petersburg.


Fort Anderson was the next major work up the Cape Fear River from Fort Fisher.  At some point in January 1865, Sampson's regiment was ordered to man the fort, make it ready for siege operations and to fire the fort's artillery upon any Union naval vessels that ventured up the river toward Wilmington. My ancestor spent a month at the fort in relative quiet, preparing the works and scouting. It was not until mid-February that Federal forces began to cautiously advance toward the port city, infantry and gunboats working in conjunction.


General Hagood personally commanded at Fort Anderson, turning the remains of his brigade over to Colonel Charles H. Simonton. With the loss of two regiments at Fort Fisher only 925 men were left in Sampson's brigade.  Reinforcements from units elsewhere around Wilmington, brought Hagood's effective force up to about 2,300. But this was still no match for the 6,000 or so Union troops supported by a large number of gunboats from the river.  Ultimately, however, there was little fighting at Fort Anderson except for the Federal gunboats bombarding the fort and the fort's guns firing back as best they could.  With a superior number of infantry the Federals simply outflanked the fort, forcing the Confederates to retreat toward Wilmington.



"Town Creek"
The next line of defense was along Town Creek. Here the land was mostly marsh and woods, and heavy skirmishing took place beginning February 19.  Once again, the Union troops attempted to outflank the Confederate position.  “Simonton hurriedly deployed his troops to check the enemy's advance, placing the 27th South Carolina in line of battle on the right side of Cowan's Road, the 11th South Carolina to the left, and Lieutenant Rankin's artillery on the lane.” (Fonvielle, page 402)

“A quick reconnaissance convinced Hagood that Cox had managed to outflank him again, just as he had at Fort Anderson.  The Federals were now in control of the mouth of Town Creek and, with naval support, could fling their entire force across the stream at any time....Hagood redeployed the 27th South Carolina to the left of Cowan's Road and personally lead the 11th South Carolina back to the Telegraph Road, positioning it slightly south of the intersection with Cowan's.  After establishing this new line, Hagood returned to Simonton's position, where that officer was trying to keep his small force of some 450 soldiers from disintegrating under the mounting pressure of the oncoming Union tide.” (page 403)

Sampson held his ground until ordered to retreat again, as Simonton attempted to offer resistance in stages without being completely surrounded.  But now some 3,000 Federal troops bore down upon his small command, capturing many of the Confederate skirmishers.  “Even so, Simonton's men stood their ground until overpowered in hand-to-hand combat with Cox's veteran troops. 'There was no running in these rebels,' one Union soldier marveled, 'they held their ragged works until the guns were snatched out of their hands.' ...Despite the close quarter fighting, most of the Confederates survived the battle and were taken prisoner.  In all, Cox's troops captured 375 officers and men, including Colonel Simonton, who personally surrendered his command to General Cox.” (page 409)

In all likelihood, as confirmed by the statement given in his Pension records, Sampson was among these 375 ragged and war weary prisoners.  It was February 20, 1865 and the war was over for my ancestor.  He remained imprisoned until May 1, 1865. How he got back to South Carolina was the same way as with most paroled Confederate soldiers.  There were no trains, there were no coaches, or wagons, the South was devastated beyond recognition. He walked.  Most likely the Union troops, with bountiful provisions, gave him some rations to tide him over and he walked back to his wife and children in South Carolina.

As this post attests, Sampson had some incredible experiences during the war even though most of his fighting took place as a sideshow to the major military campaigns in Virginia, along the Mississippi, in Tennessee and Georgia. The fantastic attack on Battery Wagner, his service on Fort Sumter during its marine assault, the timely attack at Walthall Junction that initially saved Petersburg, and his presence at the bloodbath of Cold Harbor all followed him until his death in 1910.  He was lucky to have survived it all without being killed. He was illiterate, undoubtedly bigoted, and most likely of shallow cultural capacity, yet it is with no small pride that I offer what I have been able to determine about his service in what remains this nation's bloodiest war.  
Sampson's "x" marks his signature.  He was uneducated. He made this mark in 1906.  It is my only source of direct connection with him.
Sampson's headstone in a local cemetery about 3 miles from my house.  He died in 1910.
Still faintly evident, though fading with time, is the United Daughters of the Confederacy symbol above his name on the marker.  Obviously engraved there because of Sampson's military service to the South in the War Between the States.
Finally, this is a United Daughters of the Confederacy medal probably worn during appropriate commemorations by Sampson's daughter, my great-great-grandmother. At the bottom the medal reads "To the U.C.V." which stands for United Confederate Veterans.  The medal matches the faded symbol on the headstone. I found this years ago in the bottom of my great-grandmother's trunk in her bedroom.  

Thursday, June 29, 2017

What would Nietzsche think of this Cultural Appropriation BS?

Cultural appropriation is a hotly debated topic these days.  It seems the creep of victimhood knows no bounds.  Now cultures themselves deserve to be protected from the immensely perceived threat of being borrowed from or copied by other cultures. The UN wants to outlaw it.  NPR calls it "indefensible."  But are cultures truly sacred cows? Should they be legally defended as such?  Is it illegal or unethical to borrow from, say, various religions on a given spiritual quest?  Is it improper for artists to borrow from various traditions to create art?  Making cultures sacred is not the first step not toward their preservation but toward their deification.  Nietzsche would uncover all this hubris for exactly what it is, the neoliberal absurdity of hurt feelings.

Quite simply, cultural appropriation is the ressentiment of the slave morality caused by the privilege of the master morality and, simultaneously, the attempt by slave morality to attain privilege through cultural entrenchment. There are no solid arguments for the protection of culture. Historically speaking, cultures are not static entities, they evolve in interaction with each other.  Most cultures that have found expression on this earth no longer exist.  Native Americans in the nineteenth century, for example, appropriated all manner of western culture to the point that many lost their identities. They chose metallurgy over stone and clay, they chose to learn English and copy the laws of the west.  This is not a tragedy. This is the consequence of their freedom to assimilate and the natural selection of culture. There is no basis in history for individuals feeling as if their culture cannot be "appropriated."  This is a myth perpetuated by postmodern social criticism. The master morality (and the slave morality in the example just given) can appropriate anything it pleases.  Its boundless freedom is of greater force and influence than the would-be restrictions of the cultural police. 

No culture has the "right" to not be "harmed" by the Other. This is silly.  No cultural traditions are truly "damaged" by being mocked or having aspects borrowed from a self-subscribed set of rules. There are, in fact, no cultural rights at all.  Whether a culture is appropriated or not does not directly impact the culture itself, particularly among strong-willed members of that culture, and the extinction of past cultures has not come through appropriation, but rather via irrelevancy.  In fact, it is a sign of strength of culture to endure the test of appropriation.  It is also a sign of weakness when a culture cannot endure such a test.

God is dead and we killed him through perfectly valid appropriation and abject irrelevancy. Nothing in culture is universally sacred and there is no reason members of culture should be "protected" from how others perceive and use their culture. There is no cultural moral ethical high-ground. There is only the competition of human value judgments. This is a natural competition that transcends laws and ethics. It is a characteristic of slave morality to interject laws and ethics where they do not naturally apply.   

There is no inherent reason why cultures upholding aspects of themselves as sacred, in fact, makes it so. Because, once again, God is dead and so is your right to cultural protection. What is preserved by culture is determined by the dynamic interplay of human behavior, not my some "Thou shall not commit appropriation" edict.  Such a position is whimpish and naive about the way humanity actually manifests on the planet.  Instead, everything is a competition of value judgments.  As such, the extent to where cultural appropriation happens or doesn't happen is a matter of the exchange of power in the public sphere, not a matter of ethics and morality.  History trumps ethics.  Appropriation is part of who we are.  So-called "progressive" sentimentality fills me and the masters of appropriation with nausea.  If my baseball team wears a tomahawk on its jersey (ie. the Atlanta Braves) I don't care if it offends anyone. It is a cool logo.  That is the way things actually work, human victimization be damned.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Roger Waters Rocks Pink Floyd Style

Proof of Purchase
Roger Waters successfully channels the classic Pink Floyd aesthetic with Is This The Life We Really Want?, his first album in 25 years.  I have listened to the record several times now.  It has grown on me, although it isn't as good, in my opinion, as his 1992 Amused to Death and he comes off as just an angry old man on a couple of tunes.  Nevertheless, at 73, Waters shows he still has plenty of passion and lyricism to justify the effort.

Is This The Life We Really Want? has most of the trappings of the classic Pink Floyd sound.  The album begins with a sound montage of a beating heart, clocks ticking, and looped background voices, mostly radio announcers.  So it starts out with that wonderful classic feeling.  “When We Were Young” and “Déjà Vu” are rather nostalgic. They are interesting, if uninspiring, pieces of music (well, the opening track is a “sound collage” rather than music).  “Déjà Vu” is the album's best attempt at Waters' cynical sense of humor - an avowed atheist singing about being God.  His vocals begin on the record with: "If I had been God, I would have rearranged the veins on the face to make them more resistant to alcohol and less prone to aging."  Funny stuff.

“The Last Refugee” (music video here), while more contemporary in content, is also nostalgic in the same way as the first two tracks - all three songs feel like out-takes from The Final Cut.  It is with “Picture That” that the listener first encounters a tune that is worth hearing repeatedly.  The lyrics are up to the usual high standards of a Waters song (“Follow Miss Universe catching some rays, Wish you were here in Guantanamo Bay”); in this case, as with other tracks on the album, the tune is filled with "explicit" language; every line in one stanza contains the F-bomb.  But it is still an strong number, a synthesizer heavy, semi-rocking litany of the postmodern world's ills with marvelous female backing vocals.  You can read the lyrics at your discretion here.

Broken Bones” is also explicit.  This one is mildly impressive but too reminiscent of the cynicism from his early post-Pink Floyd work, Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking come to mind. The instrumentation is excellent, however, featuring a cello and other string instruments that give it an atmospheric quality punctuated with Waters briefly shrieking the words though the song is generally soft and tender.  The lyrics are highly relevant.

The title track begins with Donald Trump talking about how his administration: "There's zero chaos, we are running, this is a fine-tuned machin..." Cut. Nice, easy instrumentation with brooding undertones.  I really like this song.  It serves as a summation of what Waters intends.  If there is a concept for this collection of songs, this tune threads it all together, wonderfully produced and mixed.  A balance of empathy, social criticism and uncertainty as only Waters can create. “Fear.  Fear drives the mills of modern man.  Fear keeps us all in line.  Fear of all those foreigners.  Fear of all their crimes.”

Without pause we slam into “Bird in a Gale” which is evocative of “Dogs” from 1977.  With all the mixed background effects and vocal loops, this might be the song in the most Pink Floydian style on the album. This one gets better every time I hear it; there is so much layered into this tune - plenty to chew on as it rocks in a multi-textured, atmospheric, cerebral style.   About two and half minutes in it briefly morphs into true sonic magic.

Unlike that track, however, “The Most Beautiful Girl” does not get any better the more you hear it, making it probably the weakest link in the chain.  It occurs to me listening to this one that really this album is more a collection of loosely associated short "anthems" of music rather than songs of related conceptual content.  This one is an accessible listen even if it is not particularly noteworthy.

Next we come to “Smell the Roses”, the best of breed on this album.  This is a funky tune, it has a nice groove with barbed lyrics.  The song stops about two minutes in for a sound collage in the traditional Pink Floyd sense.  After another minute it picks up again with a really nice slow-driving guitar leading the way through all the synthesizers and percussion. Give this track a try if you wonder whether you can handle this album at all. Awesome lyrics, great energy and feel to it without compromising the biting critique Waters infuses throughout the album.

Wait For Her” is also a terrific song, a somewhat surprising authentically touching piece.  The lyrics here are actually based upon "Lesson from the Kama Sutra (Wait for Her)", a poem by Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish; mildly suggestive sexually and extremely beautiful.  It serves as the first part of a a rather softly introspective trilogy that concludes the album.  “Oceans Apart” is the bridge that fuses “Wait For Her” with “Part of Me Died”. Not a bad way to end the album though the climax of whatever "conceptual" content there is at work here is, well, rather anti-climatic, musically speaking. 

In reality, ironically, “Part of Me Died” probably reveals the silver lining in Waters' work with the album's final lyric: “It would be batter by far, to die in her arms, than to linger in a lifetime of regret.”  Human empathy and love seems to be the simple counterweight to the detailed, bitter critique Waters hammers throughout the rest of the album upon the reality of living in the modern world.  But, of course, all that is conjectural and open to interpretation.  As it should be.

Producer Nigel Godrich shines as much as Waters on this effort.  He does a really excellent job wielding all this material into a cohesive, largely accessible, album construct.  He takes a minimalist approach, reining in the overindulgence and pretentiousness that troubled most of Waters' other solo albums.  As I mentioned, this is not a concept album in the traditional Roger Waters sense.  It is more of a tapestry of anthem-accented rants and discontented angst about our contemporary world than a singular, themed idea. But the record does not feel disjointed at all. Everything develops nicely from start to finish. The instrumentation choices are superb in most cases, even if the songs themselves are not as spectacular as the performances seem to presume.

What is missing here, of course, is David Gilmour. His knack and uncompromising drive for melody would both soften that Waters edge while also providing some catchy guitar riffs that would have made good songs like “Smell the Roses” even more powerful and popular.  But, that isn't ever going to happen.  So this is not pristine Pink Floyd.  Rather, this is Waters manifesting as Pink Floyd on his own terms. What the album lacks in terms of catchy hooks and riffs it partially makes up for with excellent production and content. It has the Pink Floyd vibe.  Waters is not simply imitating Pink Floyd nor even himself.  No, he successfully becomes a worthy version of “Pink Floyd” on this record, even without the brilliant and energetic Gilmour yin to the sorrowful but profoundly poetic Waters yang.  Overall, this album is a success in the Pink Floyd tradition.

The answer to the title's question is obviously "no." But, as usual, beyond a handful of mild, sweet references to love and passion and compassion, Waters doesn't provide any hope or suggestion on what the life we really want might be.  It is far easier to cast stones than it is to build a foundation with them.  But Waters seems to think we have to attack and destroy the current state of things even if he doesn't offer a clearly articulated alternative. Is This The Life We Really Want? is not a bad effort.  If not particularly inspiring there is enough good music here to justify the self-proclaimed "genius behind Pink Floyd" to take another contentious swipe at the apparently dehumanizing and indifferent world.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Reading 2001: A Space Odyssey

Proof of purchase.
Note:  This post is filled with spoilers about the novel 2001: A Space Odyssey

After investing much of my free time on my Nietzsche blog in the first half of 2017, I decided it was time for a mental break, a change of pace, and I wanted to read something purely entertaining.  I was browsing through my collection of old paperbacks from my high school and college days when I spotted Arthur C. Clarke's 2001: A Space Odyssey and wanted to give it a try.  

The film 2001 is one of my all-time favorites (I plan to review it in the near future) and the novel was written simultaneously as Clarke worked with Stanley Kubrick on the screenplay.  My paperback is one of the oldest books in my library.  I don't have a clear memory of it anymore but, I think my grandmother bought it for me circa 1970, around the time the movie was re-released and came to my small town theater.  

I couldn't understand a lot of the novel when I first read it around age 10. I could tell it was about a space voyage and discovering alien life, but why were there monkeys at the beginning of the story? What happened to that astronaut at the end?  The idea of a “Star-Child” was a impenetrable mystery to me.  I read the novel a couple of more times during my teens and found it to be more accessible for my imagination with each reading, but I haven't really revisited it as an adult until now.  My yellowed paperback survived a bunch of personal moves and lifestyle changes before settling in my house in 1993.

I had forgotten how different the novel is from the movie. The general narrative is the same but the details differ greatly.  For example, the film (in part) is about humanity's first mission to Jupiter, but in the novel the destination is Saturn.  Still, there are more similarities than differences.  I enjoy Clarke's classic (by today's standards) writing style.  He is erudite, concise, technical with a touch of the poetic, mysterious, at times frightening and just plain fun to read, even if the prose feels a bit dated at times.  I am normally a slow, methodical reader, but 2001 only lasted a few nights for me. Part of that is Clarke's style and brevity.  Part is the enthusiasm with which I read it.

The novel is divided into six sections.  The first involves prehistoric humanity, the second a trip to a Moon base, the third concerns the journey to Saturn (or Jupiter), the fourth and fifth pertain to mysterious happenings around one of Saturn's moons.  The final section in both the book and the movie is about, well, shall we just say a "trip" and leave it at that for now.

Clarke offers the reader marvelous details that bring his story to life in each section of the novel. There is not much in the way of character development in either the book or the movie. Unlike, say, The Windup Girl, where the narrative is totally character-driven, 2001 is driven by technical details of a grandiose near-future in space from the perspective of the mid-1960's.  It is essentially an optimistic (yet tragic) tale as far as what humanity would have supposedly accomplished some 40 years in the future during a time where the “space race” between the USA and the Soviet Union was a daily reality.

This is not a weakness, however, because 2001 is an allegorical story.  It is filled with obvious, and not so obvious, symbolism meant to be interpreted.  Clarke and Kubrick never reveal what the story is “about,” however. Their intent, rather, is that it be open to interpretation.  But, whatever it is about, it involves mysterious monoliths configured in a 1 x 4 x 9 ratio that serve as givers of intelligence and as scouts for whatever race designed them.  This monolith “teaches” an ape-man, Moon-Watcher, to kill.  The reader understands that this affects human intelligence as a whole and, indeed, human survival.  What the monolith “means” is left open, unexplained, you can decide for yourself.

There is the wonder of a spacecraft docking with a space station above the Earth, then going on to the Moon base where a monolith has been uncovered after it was buried there millions of years ago.  It sends out a sharp signal directed toward Saturn (Jupiter in the movie).  Months later a space mission is sent to the target of the signal.  In the novel, that turns out to be Saturn's third largest Moon, Japetus.
  
That's sort of when the “action” really starts.  The spacecraft's sophisticated AI computer kills four crew members for psychological reasons (conflicted programming).  The sole surviving astronaut, Dave Bowman, exits the space craft and ends up traveling into what seems an awful lot like a wormhole although Clarke never uses that term. The novel and the film both become very strange at this point, perfect for the trippy 1960's.  Bowman ends up taken in by the same undefined higher, alien intelligence that built the monoliths. Under the care of that intelligence he ages and dies and is reborn as the Star-Child, who then, in the novel but not in the film, detonates all the nuclear weapon satellites circling the Earth in that near-future, wondering what to do next.  The End.  As I said, figure it out for yourself.

But let's look a little deeper at this allegorical story.  The novel's (and the film's) first section deals with “man-apes”, specifically Moon-Watcher.  Clarke reveals a great deal about these pre-humans through a narrative of details.  Their life expectancy is about 30 years.  No one can remember anything their ancestors did.  The very idea of ancestors is beyond their ability to comprehend.  They don't know how to use their opposable thumbs very well. They are hunter-gatherers, competing with wild hogs and leopards and other beasts for the scarce berries and fruits nearby the caves where they live. 

Moon-Watcher is bright and slightly large for his kind.  He lives in a constant state of hunger so he is lean and scrawny. He has insomnia, though he doesn't know that.  He stays up at night watching the stars from the edge of his cave.  He has a theory that he can catch the Moon in his hands except there are no trees around tall enough.  

Suddenly, an upright rectangular object appears, fixed in the ground, along the path to the watering hole.  The tribe's male man-apes approach it with caution.  Moon-Watcher is the first to touch it. Then he sniffs it and tries to bite it.  But he learns he can't do anything with it, it is like a rock to him. So, after the passage of days with it just setting there, he and the rest of the tribe ignore it as just part of the background like the hills and scrubby trees.

But, one day out of the blue the monolith makes a sound and attracts certain males including Moon-Watcher.  It seizes control of them and makes them do all sorts of things.  It makes Moon-watcher flex his hands in certain ways, and use his thumbs differently.  And the monolith plants a deeper teaching.  Moon-watcher soon realizes he can pick up an antler or a bone or sharp rock and grip it and kill hogs with it. These animals have been peacefully coexisting with the man-apes for countless centuries.  Suddenly, now they are food and plenty of it.  Moon-watcher ultimately makes a weapon out of a dead leopard's head.  The tribe grows strong and Moon-watcher kills the leader of a competitor tribe at the watering hole with the leopard skull, taking mastery of the water. Humanity will survive and continue to evolve. Importantly here at the novel:

“Shrieking with fright, the Others scattered into the bush; but presently they would return, and soon they would forget their lost leader.

“For a few seconds Moon-Watcher stood uncertainly above his victim, trying to grasp the strange and wonderful fact that the dead leopard could kill again.  Now he was master of the world, and he was not quite sure what to do next.

“But he would think of something.” (page 34)

Fast forward to the year 2001.  Dr. Heywood Floyd is traveling from Washington DC to a Moon base. He has a layover in a magnificent swirling wheel-like space station. The narrative goes into great detail about the function and amenities of the near-future space station and its private rooms, which include “hi-fi” sound.  Clarke dates himself with this no longer relevant term, as well as with other words and phrases throughout the novel.  It is a product of the 60's. But there is irony in the fact that most of the dated terms are so far out of date that someone reading the novel today for the first time might think Clarke invented the terms in order to sound futuristic.

Floyd then travels to the Moon base on a different ship.  He attends a briefing in which he reveals that a rectangular monolith was discovered due to detection of its magnetism. It was dug-up from its burial 30 meters under the lunar surface. It was deliberately buried which means that this would be rather shocking news to many people on Earth. For that reason it is a complete secret.

When Floyd visits the monolith burial site, the upright rectangular slab emits an ear-piercing signal that almost renders everyone around it unconscious.  The target of that signal is Japetus, a moon of Saturn.  For that reason several months later we are traveling on the space ship Discovery with two astronauts tasked with running the ship while three other astronauts are stowed in suspended hibernation.  The novel goes into great detail about the daily operations aboard Discovery. In this manner we learn that the actual running of the ship is handled by an AI supercomputer named Hal.  

After a fairly routine voyage, Discovery arrives at Jupiter where it will use that planet's gravity to catapult it out to Saturn. At this point, Hal detects that a critical orientation component of the ship's communications antennae will fail within 72 hours. Frank Poole space walks to retrieve the alleged faulty unit but extensive testing in the ship's lab can not find anything wrong with it.  This is very strange because the HAL 9000 series computers (of which Hal is one) have never made an error.  Hal proclaims himself to be “incapable of error.”

One to the best aspects of the novel is the subtly revealed psychotic transformation of Hal from a reliable mission assistant into a murderer.  2001 is one of the first to novels to examine the the psychological fabric of an AI, so it is pioneering in that way.  Throughout this section of the narrative Clarke exposes us to Hal's actual power and capabilities – and its internal dialog, its questioning and confusion.  The reader observes a strange paranoia as it slowly grips the supercomputer.

“The time might even come when Hal would take command of the ship.  In an emergency, if no one answered his signals, he would attempt to wake the sleeping members of the crew, by electrical or chemical stimulation.  If they did not respond, he would radio Earth for further orders.

“And then, if there was no reply from Earth, he would take what measures he deemed necessary to safeguard the ship and to continue the mission – whose real purpose only he knew, and which his human colleagues could have never guessed.

“Poole and Bowman had often humorously referred to themselves as caretaker or janitors aboard a ship that could really run itself.  They would have been astonished, and more than a little indignant, to discover how much truth that jest contained.” (page 96)

“Nowadays one could always tell when Hal was going to make an unscheduled announcement. Routine, automatic reports, or replies to questions that had been put him, had no preliminaries; but when he was initiating his own outputs there would a brief electronic throat clearing.  It was an idiosyncrasy that he had acquired during the last few weeks; later, if it became an annoyance, they might have to do something about it.  But it was really quite useful, since it alerted his audience to stand by for something unexpected.”  (page 134)

Then the unexpected (and virtually inexplicable) happens. Hal apparently freaks out that it has made an error over the antennae fault and becomes concerned that the two astronauts will disconnect his higher computing functions and controls. So Hal murders Poole during the astronaut's spacewalk to reinstall the antennae unit.  Poole's lifeless body goes flying off toward Saturn (Jupiter in the movie). Bowman is shocked.

“Even now, he could not fully accept the idea that Frank had been deliberately killed – it was utterly irrational.  It was beyond all reason that Hal, who had performed flawlessly for so long, should suddenly turn assassin.  He might make mistakes – anyone, man or machine, might do that – but Bowman could not believe him capable of murder.” (page 143)

Among the many allegorical aspects of 2001 is the importance of killing for the protecting and furthering of intelligence, both animal and artificial.  In the novel, Bowman's first concern is to save the hibernating crew members (in the movie he goes after Poole's body).  He orders Hal to give him manual control over the three hibernators.

“'All of them, Dave?'

“'Yes.'

“'May I point out that only one replacement is required.  The others are not due for revival for one hundred and twelve days.'

“'I am perfectly well aware of that.  But I prefer it this way.'

“Are you sure it's necessary to revive /any/ of them, Dave?  We can manage very well by ourselves.  My on-board memory is quite capable of handling all of the mission requirements.

“Was it the product of his overstretched imagination. Wondered Bowman, or was there really a note of pleading in Hal's voice?  And reasonable though the words appeared to be, they filled him with even deeper apprehension than before.

“Hal's suggestion could not possibly have been made in error; he knew perfectly well that Whitehead must be revived, now that Poole was gone.  He was proposing a major change in mission planning, and was therefore stepping far outside the scope of his order.

“What had gone on before could have been a series of accidents; but this was the first hint of mutiny.” (pp. 144-145)

Hal delays granting Bowman manual control long enough to kill all three hibernators.  Bowman has no choice but to venture into Hal's memory storage chamber and disconnect his higher intelligence functions.  Like Poole's initial trip to retrieve the antennae unit, Bowman's disconnection of Hal is told in great technical detail in the novel.

Hal's troubles are never clearly defined, though Clarke suggests it has to do with confusing affects on the AI of being programmed to keep the objective of the mission a secret (from the two astronauts it interacts with) and protecting the mission (from the two astronauts it interacts with).

“For the last hundred million miles, he had been brooding over the secret he could not share with Poole and Bowman.  He had been living a lie; and the time was fast approaching when his colleagues must learn that he had helped to deceive them.  

“The three hibernators already knew the truth – for they were Discovery's real payload, trained for the most important mission in the history of mankind. But they would not talk in their long sleep, or reveal their secret during many hours of discussion with friends and relatives and news agencies over the open circuits with Earth.

“It was a secret that, with great determination, was very hard to conceal – for it affected one's attitude, one's voice, one's total outlook on the universe. Therefore, it was best that Poole and Bowman, who would be on all the TV screens in the world the first weeks of the flight, should not learn the mission's full purpose, until there was a need to know.  

“So ran the logic of the planners; but their twin gods of Security and National Interest meant nothing to Hal.  He was not aware of the conflict that was slowly destroying his integrity – the conflict between truth, and concealment of truth.

“He had begun to make mistakes, although, like a neurotic who could not observe his own symptoms, he would have denied it.  The link with Earth, over which his performance was continually monitored, had become the voice of conscience he could no longer fully obey.  But that he would deliberately attempt to break that link was something he would never admit, even to himself.

“Yet this was still a relatively minor problem; he might have handled it – as most men handle their own neuroses – if he had not been faced with disconnection; he would be deprived of all his inputs, and thrown into an unimaginable state of unconsciousness.  

“To Hal, this was he equivalent of Death.  For he had never slept, and therefore did not know that one could wake again...

“So he would protect himself, with all the weapons at his command.  Without rancor – but without pity – he would remove the the source of his frustrations.

“And then, following the orders that had been given to him in case of the ultimate emergency, he would continue the mission – unhindered and alone.” (pp. 148-149)

But that doesn't happen.  Bowman manages to disconnect Hal's higher thinking abilities while leaving the lower levels of ship navigation and maintenance intact.  Then, with Discovery approaching Japetus, Bowman contacts Dr. Floyd, who reveals the entire purpose of the mission to Bowman for the first time.  Soon afterward, Bowman gets in a space pod and ventures out toward the moon's surface where, over the course of the novels last 60 pages, he undergoes a mind-blowing trip and a transformation.

To condense the story down to the most essential fact, Bowman dies and is reborn as the Star-Child. “There before him, a glittering toy no Star-Child could resist, floated the planet Earth with all it peoples.

“He had returned home.  Down there on that crowded globe, the alarms would be flashing across the radar screens, the great tracking telescopes would be searching the skies – and history as men knew it would be drawing to a close.

“A thousand miles below, he became aware that a slumbering cargo of death had awoken, and was stirring sluggishly in its orbit.  The feeble energies it contained were no possible menace to him; but he preferred a cleaner sky.  He put forth his will, and the circling megatons flowered in a silent detonation that brought a brief, false dawn to half the globe.

“Then he waited, marshaling his thoughts and brooding on his still untested powers.  For though he was master of the world, he was not quite sure what to do next.

“But he would think of something.” (pp.220-221)  

The Star-Child and Moon-Watcher are elevated in their intelligence and in their being by this mysterious higher alien force.  Killing and murder are catalysts for making an evolutionary leap. The exertion of will power is idealized by 2001. Existence becomes an allegory for intelligent expression.  Moon-Watcher and Bowman become kind of the equivalent of Nietzsche's ubermensch, a higher life-form.

I stated earlier that the novel is fundamentally optimistic about what type of world is possible a mere 40 years in the future.  But, of course, all that realized potential is nevertheless laced with tragedy, as seems to be the human way with everything.  Moon-Watcher becomes master of the world when he learns make tools to kill.  Hal experienced a neurotic breakdown and kills. Bowman becomes the next phase of human evolution, a child of the stars with superhuman capabilities, who decides to detonate nuclear weapons.  Murder and destruction seem to be the logical extension and expression of higher intelligence.  But, being an allegorical story, the ability to kill is unlikely to mean anything in and of itself.  After all, the highest intelligence in the novel, whatever it is behind the monoliths, is an enabler, not an executioner. 

As much as anything, 2001 is about the evolution of human potential.  It is not about knowing who we are but rather it is about becoming something new, more powerful and exploring the possibilities of that – whether it be grasping a bone millions of years ago or experiencing the universe in a completely different way as a stellar being.

Possibility and mystery are the twin sources of human wonder.  Typically they work separately or even in opposition to each other.  It is rare to find them in concert but Clarke achieves that in this novel.  The mysteries of the monolith and of the Star-Child are open to interpretation.  And the possibilities of what happens next are as exciting for the Star-Child as they are for Moon-Watcher. This fundamental difference between who we are and who we will become lies at the heart of the novel (and the film).

2001 is a bold psychological and allegorical novel.  It is believable, tangible, puzzling, troubling and opens the reader's mind to larger questions than the simple unfolding of the narrative suggests.  It makes the question “why am I here?” irrelevant and instead replaces it with “what happens next?” And that change of inquiry might be more relevant today than it was in 1968 when 2001 first reached its worldwide audience.