Prior to entering the Academy in 1830, Edgar Allan Poe had attended the University of Virginia (1826-1827); from 1827-29 he was in the Army where he served in Boston and Virginia.
He set foot on Academy grounds on July 1, 1830, aged nineteen years and five months. His roommate Timothy Pickering Jones later wrote, “I entered West Point July 1, 1830, at the same time with Edgar Allan Poe, and were buddies, as the boys say now….I realized, even in my young years, that he was an exceptionally brilliant fellow, studying but little, but always perfect in recitations, save in mathematics which he boldly declared had no place in the brain of an intellectual man-too dull and commonplace. The strict discipline, the mathematical requirements of the military school, kept my friend in an unhappy frame of mind,. …”
Poe struggled with life at the Academy. Six months into his tenure he would find himself court -martialed for gross neglect of duty and disobedience of orders, and dismissed effective March 6, 1831.
Jones’ recollection concerning Poe’s court-martial is that “…The sentence of dismissal did not take effect until the 6th of March, and the major portion of this intervening time was utilized by Poe in writing poetry, the greater portion of which was printed in book form, dedicated to the United States Corps of Cadets.”
A transcribed copy of the court- martial is below the images.
Order No. 7. Washington, February 8, 1831.
The Court next proceeded to the trial of Cadet E.A. Poe of the U.S. Military Academy on the following charges and specifications: –
Charge 1st: – Gross neglect of duty.
Specifications 1st – In this, that he, the said Cadet Poe, did absent himself from the following parades and roll-calls between the 7th January and the 27th January, 1831, Viz., absent from evening parade on the 8th, 9th, 15th, 20th, 24th, and 25th January 1831; absent from reveille call on the 8th, 16th, 17th, 19th, 21st, 25th and 26th January 1831; absent from reveille call on the 8th, 16th, 17th, 19th, 21st, 25th, and 26th January 1831; absent from class parade on the 17th, 18th, 19th, 20th, 24th and 25th January 1831; absent from guard mounting on the 16th January, and absent from church parade on 23rd January 1831; all of which at West Point, New York.
Specification 2nd. –In this, that he, the said Cadet E.A. Poe, did absent himself from all his academic duties between the 15th and 27th January 1831.
Charge 2nd – Disobedience of orders.
Specification 1st. – In this, that he, the said Cadet E.A. Poe, after having been directed by the officer of the day to attend church on the 23rd January 1831, did fail to obey such order; this at West Point, New York.
Specification 2nd.-In this, that he, the said Cadet E.A. Poe, did fail to attend the Academy on the 25th January 1831, after having been directed to do so by the Officer of the day; that at West Point, New York.
To which specifications and charges the prisoner pleaded as follows:
The 1st Specification of the 1st Charge: Not Guilty.
To the 2nd Specification of the 1st Charge: Guilty, and Guilty to the 2nd Charge and its specifications.
The court, after mature deliberation on the testimony adducted, find the prisoner guilty of the 1st Specification of the 1st Charge, and confirm his plea to the remainder of the charges and specifications, and adjudge that he, Cadet E.A. Poe, be dismissed the service of the United States.
The Proceedings of the general court-martial in the cases of _______, E.A. Poe _________ have been laid before the Secretary of War and are approved.
Cadet Edgar A. Poe will be dismissed the service of the United States, and cease to be considered a member of the Military Academy after the 6th March 1831.
By Order of the Secretary of War:
(Signed) C. Gratiot,
Brigadier General, Chief of Engrs.
Four days later Poe wrote Colonel Thayer the letter below; unfortunately we do not know if there was a reply. A transcribed copy appears below image.
10 March 1831
Having no longer any ties which can bind me to my native country- no prospects – nor any friends – I intend by the first opportunity to proceed to Paris with the view of obtaining thro’ the interest of the Marquis de La Fayette, an appointed (if possible) in the Polish Army. In the event of the interference of France in behalf of Poland this may easily be effected – at all events it will be my only feasible plan of procedure.
The object of this letter is respectfully to request that you will give me such assistance as may lie in your power in furtherance of my views.
A certificate of “standing” in my class is all that I have any right to expect.
Anything further – a letter to a friend in Paris – or to the Marquis – would be a kindness which I should never forget.
Col: S. Thayer Yr. Obt St
Supt U.S.M.A Edgar A. Poe
Contents contributed by Susan Lintelmann, Manuscripts Curator and Alicia Mauldin-Ware, Archives Curator. Images courtesy of USMA Library Special Collections and Archives.