Rumor Doctor blog archive
Why was Edgar Allan Poe kicked out of West Point?
Published: February 4, 2011
It’s not hard to believe that Edgar Allan Poe, author of “The Pit and the Pendulum” and other horror stories, went to the United States Military Academy at West Point, an institution conspicuously absent from the list of top party schools.
Poe tried hard to get kicked out of West Point, and in 1831, he succeeded. Rumor is that the final straw came when he reported for drill wearing belts for his cartridges, a smile and nothing else, but did he actually do it? It’s time for a visit to The Rumor Doctor.
Poe’s tenure at West Point from July 1830 to February 1831 was “short, yet tumultuous,” according to, “Edgar Allan Poe: The Army Years,” a publication from West Point’s library.
“His emotional instability coupled with deep personal problems, such as his constant need for funds and a lack of time to devote to poetry more than his deficiency in military aptitude, cut short his cadetship,” the library publication said.
But there are no records of Poe showing up for drill naked. Instead, Poe was court-martialed after he stopped going to class, parade, roll calls and chapel in January 1831. The following month, he was dismissed.
The earliest references to Poe pulling “The Fully Monty” while on parade date back to the 1920s, said Christopher Semtner, curator of The Edgar Allan Poe Museum in Richmond, Va.
In reality, Poe’s meltdown was triggered in part by his strained relationship with his foster father, John Allan, who had recently remarried, cutting Poe out of any family inheritance, Semtner said in an e-mail. Things came to a head when one of Poe’s outstanding debts came to haunt him.
Poe had enlisted in the Army in 1827, rising to the rank of sergeant major. In order to attend West Point, he hired a soldier named Samuel Graves to finish his term. But Poe never paid Graves, claiming in a letter that Allan “was probably drunk and had forgotten to send the money,” Semtner said.
Graves sent Poe’s note to Allan, who then sent Poe a letter saying their relationship was over. Poe responded by saying he intended to resign from West Point.
But that didn’t deter Poe from trying to pursue a military career. A month after leaving West Point, he asked the school’s superintendent for a letter of recommendation so he could join the Polish army. There’s no evidence he got a reply.
THE RUMOR DOCTOR’S DIAGNOSIS: The true story about why Edgar Allan Poe left West Point is sad and short, much like Poe’s life, but will the legend of him appearing naked ever die? Quoth The Rumor Doctor: Nevermore!