career in the army : LUSENET : The Work of Edgar Allan Poe : One Thread

I would like information on the history of his career in the army. I am especially interested in the time he spent in Charleston, SC.

-- Anonymous, February 16, 2001



Edgar Poe,s return to Richmond from the University of Virginia at Charlottesville in December 1826 was not a particularly joyous end to his first year of college. In fact it seems his foster mother, Frances, was the only person happy to see him. He was in debt, avoided by his friends and he discovered that his sweetheart, Elmira Royster was engaged to be married. A two year old feud between Poe and his foster father, John Allan, finally flared into a separation that would not see Poe return until the death of Frances Allan.

Poe left Richmond for the city of his birth, Boston, in March 1827, just three short months after leaving Charlottesville. Now 18 years old and determined to make a way for himself, he made sure he brought with him his manuscripts of poetry. According to Kenneth Silverman in his book, "Edgar Allan Poe - Mournful and Never-ending Remembrance", Poe worked as a clerk and for a small local newspaper to support himself. Thomas Harding Ellis, son of Charles Ellis, the business partner of John Allan, had indicated that prior to Poe's enlistment, Poe had performed as an actor on stage in Boston.

Sometime in the spring of 1827, Poe provided his manuscripts to a young printer, Calvin F. S. Thomas, who published a small volume, "Tamerlane and Other Poems." By the time it was published in June, Poe had enlisted in the Unites States Army as Edgar A. Perry, aged 22 years on May 26, 1827. In his book, "Edgar Allan Poe - A Critical Biography", Arthur H. Quinn notes that the little book that sold for 12.5 cents, "... is now one of the most sought and the most valuable of rare Americana."

Upon Poe's enlistment as a private, he had listed his occupation as a clerk which may or may not be accurate. However, the unnecessary distortion of his age and last name is an indication that he may have wished to conceal his whereabouts. There are some indications he feared a warrant for his debts. Other enlistment statements gave his height as 5' 8"; hair brown; eyes gray; and complexion fair. He was stationed at Fort Independence at Boston Harbor and assigned to Battery H, First Artillery. Poe remained at Fort Independence for about five months before the Battery was reassigned to Fort Moultrie on October 31, 1827. Poe and members of his unit left on November 8, 1827 aboard the brig Waltham and arrived at Fort Moultrie on Sullivan's Island in Charleston harbor on November 18, 1827. Here, Poe remained for one year and twenty-three days and, once again reassigned, sailed for Fort Monroe, Virginia aboard the Harriet on December 11, 1828. Poe, with his unit, arrived at Fort Monroe on December 15, 1828.

According to Quinn, his stay in Charleston harbor as an enlisted man would have afforded him little opportunity for a social life and except for frequent excursions on the island and, perhaps long visits to the mainland and Charleston, Poe seemed to spend most of his time with his duties. Quinn points out a friendship Poe had developed with Colonel William Drayton to whom Poe dedicated his volume, "Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque". There is no doubt where Poe received the inspiration for his story, "The Gold Bug" and his description of the island is essentially accurate as he would have seen it. The interest of entomology and conchology of the story's main character, Legrand, was an interest of Poe's as well. In fact, in 1839 Poe rewrote Wyatt's textbook on conchology. Also of interest was the probable interaction between Poe and a distinguished conchologist by the name of Dr. Edmund Ravenel that lived on Sullivan's Island during this period and may have served as partial inspiration for Legrand. The images and descriptions of Fort Moultrie, Sullivan's Island and the surrounding scenery are found in several of Poe's tales such as "The Balloon-Hoax" and "Oblong Box".

By December 1828, Poe had become weary of Army life and saw it as a delay to his primary interests. He wrote to his foster father, John Allan from Fort Moultrie asking his consent to withdraw from military service. From May to his return to Fort Monroe, Poe worked as an 'artificer' or craftsman and by January 1, 1829, he was promoted to Sergeant Major. This is the highest rank for a non-commissioned officer and clearly demonstrates his attention to duty and good performance. Generally, Poe was unlike many enlisted men and was very well educated, intellectual and well disciplined in languages, mathematics and the sciences.

In February, 1829, after two attempts to get John Allan to respond to his request for assistance in leaving the Army, he wrote Allan asking for him to use his influence to obtain Poe an appointment to West Point as a cadet. It is thought that the circumstances surrounding the illness and death of Frances Allan, Poe's foster mother, on February 28, 1829 provided an environment of reconciliation between Poe and Allan for the latter ultimately relented and helped Poe secure an appointment to West Point. Military records indicate he was present at Fort Monroe on the 28th, the day she died and by the time he was notified of her death and rushed home to Richmond on furlough, he arrived one day late for her funeral. Upon his return to Fort Monroe, Poe initiated the process to secure his release from the service by substitution provided by "... an experienced soldier and approved Sergeant, is ready to take the place of Perry so soon as his discharge can be obtained." (letter of Colonel Jas. House, 1st Artillery to Commanding General, E Department, United States Army)

On April 4, 1829, with Special Order No. 28, Sergeant Major Edgar A. Perry was discharged effective April 15, 1829. War Department records indicate that on April 17, 1829, Sergeant Samuel Graves of Company H enlisted (or perhaps re-enlisted) as a substitute for Sergeant Major Perry. Poe's military career had spanned just under two years from May 1827 to April 1829. Subsequently, Poe returned to Richmond to await his assignment to West Point.

Source (Edgar Allan Poe - A Critical Biography, John Hopkins Edition, 1998, Pages 118-137)


-- Anonymous, February 18, 2001

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