Edgar Allan Poe, one of the most renowned American writers of the 19th century, had a career trajectory that was far from conventional. Before he became famous for his masterful works of horror and suspense, Poe led a tumultuous life that included a stint in the US Army. Although he demonstrated exceptional skills in explosives preparation and rose to the rank of sergeant major within two years of enlisting, Poe’s time in the military was marred by misconduct and controversy. Legends of his misdeeds include showing up for formation naked, constant drunkenness, and even accusations of murder.
Ultimately, Edgar Allan Poe’s actions caught up with him, and in 1831, he was court-martialed and expelled from West Point for “gross neglect of duty” and “disobedience of orders” after amassing a staggering 110 offenses. While his military career may have been short-lived and fraught with difficulties, it served as a crucial stepping stone on his path to literary fame.
On October 3, 1849, Edgar Allan Poe was found delirious and dressed in someone else’s clothing outside a Baltimore pub, muttering the mysterious name “Reynolds.” He died several days later under mysterious circumstances, adding to the enigma surrounding his life and legacy. Despite his troubled past, Poe’s contributions to American literature continue to captivate readers and inspire new generations of writers.
Before becoming a famous writer, Poe led an unusual career in the US Army. After accumulating substantial gambling debt during his freshman year at the University of Virginia, Poe joined the Army as an artilleryman and eventually became an artificer, a respected position for someone skilled in preparing explosives. Poe quickly excelled in the Army, earning the rank of sergeant major after just two years, but he began to search for an early way out.
In 1830, Edgar Allan Poe found an unorthodox solution by enlisting in the United States Military Academy at West Point. However, when Poe’s foster father expressed a desire to end all future communication, Poe vowed to get revenge by getting kicked out of West Point. Poe accrued 44 offenses and 106 demerits between July and December 1831, and in January 1832, he ramped up his efforts, accruing 66 offenses in just 31 days. Although legends of his misconduct range from constant drunkenness to showing up for formation naked or committing murder, it is more likely that he skipped class incessantly. In February 1832, he was court-martialed and expelled for “gross neglect of duty” and “disobedience of orders.”
Before leaving West Point, Poe duped several classmates into giving him $170, which he used to publish a book of his poetry. Instead of publishing the poems he had shared with his classmates, which poked fun at their instructors, Poe republished a selection of his older, more respectable poems. Although this ruse burned some bridges with former classmates, it marked a turning point for Poe as a writer.
After his expulsion from West Point and the publication of his book, Edgar Allan Poe began to take writing more seriously. His work garnered international attention, and he became the first well-known American to make a living as a writer. Poe’s tales of the macabre and his invention of detective fiction inspired the growth of science fiction and horror literature in America.
Today, Poe’s legacy continues to captivate readers, but his uncommon career as an accomplished soldier and unruly cadet are equally intriguing. If you’re in Baltimore, check out the museum dedicated to him.
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