Captain Bertrand Rockwell

Ecclesiastes 4:15-16

What do you think about a person who hangs out in graveyards? I’m sorry, but I am such a person. One of my favorite places is Mt. Washington Cemetery in Independence, Missouri. Years ago, perhaps even before the couple of summers when I worked at the place, I discovered the grave marker of Bertrand Rockwell. It’s of him that I think when I read the next verses from Ecclesiastes.

I saw all the living, who move about under the sun, follow a second youth who succeeds him. There is no limit to all the people who were before them, yet those who come later will not rejoice in him. This too is futile and a pursuit of the wind.

Ecclesiastes 4:15-16

You’ll recall that these verses come on the heels of comments about an aged, foolish king. That’s the “him” mentioned here.

Captain Kid

All I remembered from that gravestone was that Rockwell was a Civil War captain. Visiting it recently, I marveled at something that hadn’t occurred to me in the past: his age. The Civil War began in 1861 when Rockwell was all of 17 years old. When it came to an end in 1865, he found himself 21 and a captain.

Captains tend to command companies within a regiment. I haven’t dug into this fellow enough to know what company he commanded, and his easily obtainable records show that he served in several companies, always within the 34th Iowa Infantry. I also don’t know when he was promoted. Rockwell came into the army as a private. Somewhere along the line he distinguished himself sufficiently to move into the officer ranks at a young age and then to advance to the rank of captain and the command of as many as 100 men.

Can you imagine the attitudes of some of the old hands in this company when they were informed that their new company commander only needed to shave every couple of days? Don’t you know that there were older men questioning how someone of 19 or 20 could possibly fill that role? Don’t you imagine there were many who thought, “they should have made me an officer instead of that upstart!”

Granted, officers needed to be able to read and write, which was no given in the Civil War, but I’m sure that at least some resentment must have arisen. But what does all that have to do with Solomon and Ecclesiastes and an old king or a “second youth”?

Getting in Tune

I’ll assume that Bertrand Rockwell became an officer at a very young age because of his merits, but others would follow along behind him. In that same war, the long-time American military hero Winfield Scott began the conflict in command of the armies, but a succession of younger men quickly came along to replace him, when he proved unequal to the task. Ulysees S. Grant had not quite reached his 43rd birthday when Lee surrendered.

If we believe that our efforts and accomplishments are in any way permanent, we need only wander to a grave marker in Mt. Washington Cemetery to be corrected. Wealth, position, and reputation are soon taken by someone else.

Nothing endures under the sun. That’s why we need to focus ourselves on the things beyond the sun.