How Edgar Allan Poe Got Kicked Out Of The Army

Many fans of Edgar Allan Poe might not realize that he served his country via a stint in the United States Army. In fact, the budding author and poet had enlisted in the service, excelling and making quite a positive reputation for himself among his superiors.

Poe had already privately published a book of poetry prior to his enlistment. "Tamerlane and Other Poems" had a short run of only 50 copies. Clearly, writing wasn't making Poe much of an income. While his motives for enlisting aren't entirely clear, it's speculated that it was because Poe didn't have a great relationship with his court-appointed guardian, who had all but cut him off (via National Park Service).

At the time his book of poems were published, Poe was living in Boston, and was nearly broke. A career in the army, while not promising to make him rich, was better than the poor house or the streets. On May 27, 1827, using the name Edgar A. Perry, Poe enlisted (via World History Project).

Rising through the ranks

Poe, while only 18 at the time of his enlistment, lied on his forms and claimed to be 22. As a private, Poe was sent to work in artillery at Fort Independence in Boston (via U.S. Army Corps of Engineers). After several months at this post, Poe was sent to Fort Moultrie in South Carolina in the fall of 1827. It was here that Poe began to really excel in his duties.

For the next 13 months, Poe worked hard, putting together artillery shells for the fort. At the end of 1828, Poe was transferred again, this time to Fortress Monroe. While at this fort on the Chesapeake, Poe worked his way up the ranks, attaining the rank of sergeant major. At the time, a sergeant major was the highest rank a non-commissioned officer could attain. Poe was able to do this in just under two years.

Wanting more out of his military career, Poe begged a favor from his wealthy guardian, John Allan. Poe would be able to leave his post if he were accepted into the West Point Military Academy, but would need some help in getting accepted. Allan relented, and was able to get Poe tested for enrollment, beginning in 1830. How would the future horror author fare in this prestigious institution? 

Expulsion and discharge

Passing his tests with flying colors, Poe officially became a West Point cadet in June of 1830 (via History Net). As was the case with his enlistment in the Army, Poe began to excel in his new calling. At the end of his first semester at West Point, Poe was ranked 17th out of more than 80 of his peers.

Poe's success at West Point was short-lived, however. Complaining about the difficult coursework and seemingly constant barrage of PT and discipline, Poe began to despise his time at the academy. When he asked Allan for a favor in getting out, Allan flat out refused. This left Poe with two choices; fulfill his obligations as a cadet, or get himself tossed out. Poe chose the latter. According to legend, Poe showed up at drill one morning wearing only his belt and a smile. This story about a naked Poe is most likely just an myth, however, as no record of it happening actually exists.

What is on the record is Poe's clear dereliction of duty. Prior to expulsion, Poe was marked for missing six evening calls, seven morning reveille calls, and other responsibilities. Then Poe just stopped showing up for his classes, missing two weeks' worth of them in a row. In essence, Poe just stopped participating altogether. This resulted in court martial paperwork getting started.

The writer emerges

Poe was officially tossed out of the military on March 6, 1831 (via U.S. Army Corps of Engineers) for gross neglect of duty and insubordination (via History Net). Poe was fortunate that he was no longer considered an enlisted soldier when he was discharged. The reasons for his expulsion certainly would have meant great discipline, and perhaps even imprisonment, if he were more than just a cadet at that point.

Poe settled in Baltimore with his aunt and cousin (via National Park Service). From there, the three of them moved to Richmond, New York City, and Baltimore, while Poe worked as an editor for numerous publications, including Graham's Magazine, and writing his own work on the side, including (per Biography) "The Raven," published in 1845.

Tragedy always seem to befall Poe, however. His struggles with alcohol addiction and depression might even have led him to an early grave. His lifeless body was found outside of Gunnar's Tavern in Baltimore on October 7, 1849 (via National Park Service). Though there were countless rumors that surrounded his death (including being the victim of a robbery, an overdose of opium, and alcohol poisoning), the actual cause of Poe's death remains a mystery.

His funeral was sparsely attended. However, to this day, Poe's poems and short stories are still in publication, and loved by readers all over the world. Who knows if these works of literature would have even been penned had Poe stuck it out at West Point?