Did Edgar Allan Poe Go to West Point?

By: Alyssa Miller | Last updated: Feb 02, 2024

Most great writers and poets lived relevantly interesting yet hard lives. The famed American writer Edgar Allan Poe was no different. Perhaps this is why the central figure in early American literature spent his early life in the Army and attending West Point. 

Why did Poe go to the military school? No one is quite sure, but it played a central role in his personal life that bleed into his decision to make writing his career. Let’s get into it! 

Did Edgar Allan Poe Attend West Point?

At 21, Edgar Poe entered West Point’s demanding Military Program with influence from his wealthy guardian, John Allan. Though well-educated and quick-witted, Poe soared in his classes at West Point.

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Carte de Visite of Edgar Allan Poe produced in Brady's Gallery, based on a modified version of the "Ultima Thule" daguerreotype.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

When did Edgar Allan Poe go to West Point? In March 1830, after the poor poet craved a higher education after his first book drew little attention and his experience in the U.S. Army. 

Where Is Edgar Allan Poe From?

One look at Edgar Allan Poe’s biography would tell you that the famed writer was born and raised on the North East Coast of the United States, where he would stay for the majority of his life. Born in Boston on January 19, 1809, Poe’s childhood was tough.

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A drawing of two people outside a house in "The Life of Edgar Allan Poe"

Source: Internet Archive Book Images/Flickr

Actor David Poe abandoned the family in 1810, and his mother, Elizabeth “Eliza,” died the following year. John and Frances Allan or Richmond, Virginia took Poe in but never formally adopted him.

West Point Wasn’t the First School the Poet Attend

Poe attended the University of Virginia, where Woodrow Wilson would attend less than a century later, and Allan funded his education. However, Poe accumulated massive gambling debts at the college and left after a year. At 18 years old, Poe moved to Boston and published his first book of verse. 

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Entered according to the Act of Congress in the year 1856, by Casimir Bohn, in the Clerks Office of the District Court, of the District of Columbia

Source: Library of Congress/Picryl

After reconnecting with his foster father, Poe was discharged from the Army to go to the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1830. His West Point ranks are unknown. 

Was Edgar Allan Poe in the Military?

It seems odd to ask the question, “Was Edgar Allan Poe a cadet?” However, Poe seemed to flourish in the military, obtaining the rank of Sergeant Major for Artillery. However, Poe seemed to want to attend West Point for an undocumented reason.

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U.S. Military Academy cadets, 1861-65. Russell, Andrew J. photographer.

Source: Library of Congress

According to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineering, Poe enlisted into the Army on a whim under the alias “Edgar A. Perry.” Serving as a private for a five-year term, Poe abruptly quit the Army after two years, finding a substitute to take his place, and attended West Point. 

He Was Only at West Point for 7 Months 

After seven months in the academy, Poe stopped showing up to classes that he was exceeding in. Pieces of History discovered that Cadet Poe has 44 offenses and 106 demerits for the term. In January, the month that Poe would leave the school, he was at the top of the list with 66 offenses for the month. 

Selection from the court-martial trial case file of Edgar Allan Poe

Source: Records of U.S. Army Continental Commands

Driven by an unknown motive, Poe deliberately engaged in behavior that would lead to his expulsion from West Point, all while excelling in his academic studies.

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The Poet was Court-Martialed and Dismissed from West Point

On January 28, 1831, a court-martial convened at West Point found Poe guilty of two charges, according to Pieces of History. The first charge found Poe guilty of gross neglect of duty, and the second for disobedience of orders. 

Edgar Allan Poe portrait

Source: Picryl

“Poe did well academically but was soon undone by continuing quarrels with his foster father and money problems,” a curator wrote in a note that was displayed next to the court-martial record at the 1998 Archives exhibit, “American Originals.” “During his first term, he decided to leave West Point but could not resign without the consent of his foster father. When Allen did not consent, Poe set out to get himself court-martialed and dismissed.”

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Where Did Edgar Allan Poe Live After West Point?

Disowned by his foster family and gone from West Point, Poe was ready to become a professional poet and writer. Poe left for New York City in February of 1831 and released a third volume of poems, simply titled “Poems.” 

Daguerreotype of Edgar Allan Poe 1848, first published 1880. Taken by W.S. Hartshorn, Providence, Rhode Island, November, 1848

Source: Public Domain/Picryl

Thanks to the support of fellow West Point cadets, who donated 75 cents apiece, the book was funded. The total raised amount was $170.

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Edgar Allan Poe's First Published Work

In 1827, right before enlisting in the United States Army under an assumed name, Poe published his first collection of poems. “Tamerlane and Other Poems,” a collection of poems, appeared without an author’s name, credited only to “a Bostonian.”

"Once Upon a Midnight Dreary. Illustration to The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe"

Source: Public Domain/The Met

Though only 12 original copies are believed to remain, the short collection endures to this day. NPR reported that one of the 12 copies sold in 2009 for $662,500, setting a record for work of American literature

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Edgar Allan Poe's Most Famous Work

While “Tamerlane” holds a special place in American literature, it is Poe’s “The Raven” that found him instant success. While recognized primarily as a literary critic, Poe published poems and short stories in the magazine he edited during his lifetime.

A drawing of "The Raven"

Source: Wikimedia Commons

However, “The Raven,” which was published in print in the New York Evening Mirror on January 29, 1845, made Poe a household name. Unfortunately, it did not bring him significant financial success.

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How Old Was Edgar Allan Poe When He Married?

Poe had a few marriages in his life, but his most infamous marriage was to his first cousin, Virginia Eliza Clemm Poe. On May 16, 1836, Virginia, 13 years old, and Edgar Allan Poe, 27 years old, publicly exchanged vows. However, Virginia’s age was listed as 21 with Thomas W. Cleland confirming this to be true. 

A watercolor portrait of Virginia Eliza Clemm Poe

Source: Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons

Poe loved his wife, who would unfortunately die in 1847 of tuberculosis. Only two images of Virginia are known to exist: one that a painter made after using her corpse as a model, and another that Poe commissioned as a portrait in watercolor. 

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Edgar Allan Poe’s Mysterious Death

Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of Poe’s life was his death. Found semiconscious in a ditch in Baltimore by Joseph W. Walker on October 3, 1849. Poe was unable to stay coherent long enough to explain how he ended up in clothes that were not his own and who “Reynolds,” a name he called out the night before his death, was. 

The plaque of Edgar Allan Poe's death

Source: Jimmy Emerson/Flickr

Poe’s final words on October 7 were, “Lord help my poor soul,” (via the History Channel). Time has lost the records of his demise, including his death certificate.

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