In late May 1827, Poe lied about his age and identity to enlist in Company H, 1st Artillery in Boston. He was promoted to Sgt Major in January 1829, and released 2 years into a 5 year enlistment in April 1829 to work towards acceptance to West Point which he would enter in 1830. Then Spring 1831 would see him dismissed and his military career over for good.

I wonder if Poe stuck out like a bleeding wound as an enlisted soldier, because he was native-born American from a wealthy family? Poe had a family legacy because his grandfather had been a quartermaster in the Continentals.

Given the inherent suspicion of the American polity toward armies and soldiers, it was rare for wealthy young men to join the army in peacetime. Most new recruits were immigrants and didn't speak English fluently. Desertion and bad discipline were rampant. In a year of Poe's enlistment, the Army not only experienced mutiny at West Point, but had a soldier murder another, and an attempt to murder an officer in a short lived Christmas Mutiny at Fort Mackinac, Michigan.

I read r/askhistorian User "PartyMoses"'s comment.

  • In the 19th century US army infantry and cavalry, a sergeant major was the senior enlisted man in the entire regiment. Was that different in the artillery?
    – MAGolding
    Commented May 11, 2020 at 19:20
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1 Answer 1


Edgar Allan Poe was a highly literate man who had enrolled in the University of Virginia, at a time when few people completed grade school, never mind high school, or enrolled in college.

"Collegiate" is a requirement for being an officer in the U.S. army today, and even in those days, was extremely helpful. A college professor of rhetoric named Joshua Chamberlain was enrolled as a Lt. Colonel, and late promoted to Colonel and beyond. He started with no battlefield experience, but a lot of "book knowledge" about "refusing the flank" that enabled him to successfully lead his troops at Gettysburg.

At any rate, Poe enrolled in West Point after he left the army, and more to the point, was seen as "officer" material even before he left, despite his young age. His promotion to Sergeant Major was basically a "down payment" on this.

  • Thanks. Can I follow up? Why didn't Poe start an officer if he was so "highly literate"?
    – user8309
    Commented May 10, 2020 at 21:12
  • 1
    Also your linked Wikipedia page states > Offered the colonelcy of the 20th Maine Regiment, he declined, according to his biographer, John J. Pullen, preferring to "start a little lower and learn the business first."
    – user8309
    Commented May 10, 2020 at 21:12
  • @Swansea: Yes, Chamberlain was "offered" a colonelcy and "enrolled" as a Lt. Colonel based on his own insistence. Basically, he could "write his ticket,: and he did."Reculer pour mieux avancer."
    – Tom Au
    Commented May 10, 2020 at 21:14
  • @Swansea: I believe he would have been made an officer if he had completed college like Chamberlain. With "some college" the Army preferred to "wait and see" and "fast track" him to officer, but not offer it to him on the spot.
    – Tom Au
    Commented May 10, 2020 at 21:17
  • Per this short piece it seems like key decisions about his promotion were made by a Colonel James House.
    – Brian Z
    Commented May 10, 2020 at 21:20

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