Text: Karl E. Oelke, “Poe at West Point — A Revaluation,” Poe Studies, June 1973, Vol. VI, No. 1, 6:1-6


[page 1:]

Poe at West Point — A Revaluation

Union College, Cranford, N.J.

Of Poe’s varied experiences between the publication of Al Aaraaf, Tamerlane, and Minor Poems in 1829 and Poems in 1831, scholars generally agree that his time at West Point contributed least to his development as a poet. A. H. Quinn sees Poe’s stay there as “an interruption of his real career,” states that “he was not aided by such education as he consented to receive,” and implies that he did little or no serious writing at West Point: “He must have anticipated more leisure to write at the Academy than he found there (1). Floyd Stovall echoes Quinn when he states that “Poe may have composed or revised some of these [300 lines of new poetry] after he arrived at West Point, but he had but little space or time there in which to court the Muse. . . . he was obliged to fulfill the requirements of drill and classes at least until the end of December [1830]” (2). Finally, Poe’s letter to John Allan from West Point, dated 6 November 1830, indicates that he had but little time for extracurricular activities: “I have spent my time very pleasantly hitherto — but the study requisite is incessant, and the discipline exceedingly rigid” (3). It is further assumed that, had Poe the time, there was little available at West Point, either in the library or in the persons of his instructors or companions, to provide intellectual stimulation. Robert Jacobs states this position most succinctly when he says, “Poe’s only advanced schooling was at the University of Virginia” and “he had spent much of the time between the ages of eighteen and twenty-two in the Army and at West Point, situations hardly conducive to literary study” (4). This paper will attempt to establish that, in spite of the spartan regimen, Poe had both time and opportunity for intellectual pursuits other than curriculum-related studies while he was at West Point from June 1830 to February 1831.

To be sure, the discipline at West Point was strict. Military and academic life were so blended that the cadet who graduated had mastered, if not his military and academic subjects to a high degree, at least the skill of self-discipline. The course of study ran twelve months, with military subjects receiving primary emphasis from the end of June exams through August, and academic subjects receiving primary emphasis from September through the June exams. Candidates for admission were required to report to West Point between 1 and 20 June for a period of drill (and schooling in the fundamentals [column 2:] of arithmetic) before the entrance examinations (5). George Cullum, who acted as a candidate instructor in the summer of 1832, gives a description of the examination and shows how little trouble Poe must have had with it: “To see the poor devils puffing and sweating to answer a few simple questions in Arithmetic was . . . quite an amusing scene for me. One fellow, on being sent up to the . . . black board to divide 5 by 2/3 began blubbering most tremendously. . . . Had he been in my section I think I should not have been very sparing of questions”(6). Once past these minimal requirements, the candidates joined the remainder of the corps of cadets at the annual summer encampment, where training consisted of daily drill, the use of musket or rifle, cannon, mortar and howitzer, and the preparation of field works and munitions (7). The daily routine began with an hour’s drill before breakfast, included several more foot and artillery drills and classes throughout the day, and usually ended with the luckless cadet standing guard (8).

Although extracurricular activities and social life in camp were limited, they were available. Albert Church recalled that the principal diversion was “to gather in small parties and listen to the stories of one or two particularly gifted in this way” (p. 148). Dancing lessons were given to the upper-classman in the evenings of summer camp, but the new cadets were not included in these sessions (9). On two occasions during the summer there were formal festivities — the Fourth of July and the end of the encampment. Both occasions were wildly celebrated; even intoxicating liquors were served. George Cullum, from the wide-eyed viewpoint of the new cadet, wrote of the 1829 celebration:

[The Fourth of July was] celebrated in a superior stile [sic] in this place. The Cadets were marched in full uniform to the Chapel, where a very eloquent oration was delivered. . . . At three o’clock we were marched to the Mess Hall where a splendid dinner was prepared. . . . Every officer on the Point attended but not withstanding this out of 250 there were about 200 got intoxicated. Such a scene I never before witnessed. It was nothing but a constant uproar as soon as they left the Hall, carrying Cadets about on their shoulders, breaking every thing that came before them and doing all kinds of mischief — Among so many you would have supposed that there would have been some quarrelling but only two quarrelsome persons were to be found among them all (10).

Albert Church also describes the Fourth of July celebration:

When I first came to the Academy [summer of 1824], it was the custom for the cadets to give a 4th of July dinner, to which the professors and officers were invited. At these dinners wine flowed freely and toasts were drank [sic] in bumpers. As a very natural consequence, many of the cadets, as was the habit at most public and many private dinners in these days, became grossly intoxicated and the dinner usually broke up in considerable [page 2:] of a row. On the 4th of July, 1825, the dinner was more than usually joyous, and ended by the cadets carrying Major Worth [the commandant of cadets] to camp on their shoulders, and a jolly, as well as boisterous time they had that night. This I believe was the last of the dinners. Col. Thayer, who, it was thought, winked at them by always absenting himself from post on this day, was too much dissatisfied with the reports of this last proceeding, and winking no longer, put his veto on them (p. 164).

Church’s comments on the nature of the celebrations are corroborated by cadet letters, but his recollection of Col. Sylvanus Thayer’s putting a stop to the celebrations in 1825 is inaccurate. Cadet letters and USMA orders reflect that the celebrations continued through the end of Thayer’s superintendency (1833).

The masquerade balls that ended summer camp were usually more decorous than the Fourth of July celebrations. Elaborate costumes were obtained or prepared, and ladies were invited from Albany, New York City, and surrounding towns. Jacob Bailey’s letter to his brother, William, describes the ball at the end of Poe’s summer camp:

The Cadets were all preparing when I arrived for a Grand Fancy Ball which there was last night. . . . There was the usual number of Negroes, Beaux, Tailors, Sailors, Knights, Ladies, Devils, Bears, Baboons, Dandies, etc. etc. The character which was supported best of any that I saw was that of a Yankee from down East. . . . His dress was an old white felt hat, worn to the shape of a sugar loaf, old coat with sleeves reaching just below the elbows, very short pantaloons, a knife with a stick to whittle. There were many ladies present who were invited from Albany, Newburgh, and New York. Cooper the actor lent the Corps about 60 fancy dresses from the wardrobe of the Bowery Theatre New York (11).

Thus, although the discipline of the summer encampment was for the most part strict, and although the training was serious, it appears that there were times for relaxation and enjoyment. That is, the regimen was not so rigid as to fail to allow for at least a limited amount of free time.

The cadets moved from summer encampment to barracks at the end of August. In 1830 the corps broke camp and marched to barracks on 30 August, drew their textbooks and received their first assignments on 31 August, and began classes on 1 September(12). In barracks, discipline was as strict as it was in summer camp, but the emphasis lay now on academic rather than military excellence. Drill continued, but only for about an hour and a half in the afternoon, five days a week, followed by a formal evening parade. The major part of the day was devoted either to preparation for class or to recitation(13). That the cadets, at least the ones who desired to do well, took the regimen seriously is verified by many cadet letters. David B. Harris’ to his sister dated 11 April 1830 is typical:

The cadets always go to bed at 1/2 past nine O’clock, and rise now at five; I have been in the habit during the winter of going to bed about two hours before tattoo [9:30 P.M.], and getting up at the same length of time before reveille, which I think is the best time for studying. We eat breakfast at seven O’clock and dinner at one throughout the year. The hours for study are from reveille until breakfast, from eight O’clock until dinner, from two O’clock until four, and from seven O’clock until tattoo. The 4th class recite in Mathematics from eight until 11 O’clock, [column 2:] and the 1st Section in French from two until three. We have to drill every evening except Saturday and Sunday evening from 10 minutes past four until about 1/2 past five O’clock. Parade takes place about 15 minutes past 6 O’clock, and we eat supper immediately after parade. . . . The battalion is inspected every Sunday when it is a fair day at 9 O’clock. The guard marches on immediately after inspection, and we go to church at 11 O’clock, and return at one; we have one hour of recreation from two until three O’clock on Sunday, and from three until parade it is study hours. . . . Tell Mamma and Cousin Dolly that I had rather live here than at any other place that I have ever lived at any length of time except Frederick’s Hall. I have never enjoyed better health than I do now. (Special Collections, USMA Library)

The only two courses Poe was required (or allowed) to take were French and mathematics(14). Thayer’s philosophy of education was that the student should not necessarily study a large number of subjects, but he should master thoroughly those to which he was exposed. As Church noted, “his guiding principle was thoroughness in everything — thorough teaching — thorough learning . . . and to him, more than any other man, does the Military Academy owe that which is now the source of its great reputation, viz: its thorough teaching of a few rather than a smattering of many things” (p. 149). In his two courses, Poe studied algebra and geometry in mathematics, and in French, grammar and translation into English.

The first year mathematics course included algebra, geometry, plane and spherical trigonometry, and descriptive geometry (Board of Visitors Report, 1831, p. 97; Park, p. 104). Cadet letters indicate, however, that only algebra and geometry were covered during the first semester. Cullum writes on 22 November 1829: “We have been since September studying Algebra and French. . . .” Harris writes on 5 December 1829: “The 1st Mathematical Section in the 4th Class will commence Geometry on Monday. . . . It is about 3 or 4 weeks to the January examination, at which time all of the Sections in the 4th Class will be examined by the Academic Staff on Lacroix’s Algebra and . . . the 1st and 2nd sections will be examined also on the Geometry they will have learned by that time.” Register of Merit, No. 1, 1817 to 1835 (Archives, USMA Library), which has the cadets arranged in order of merit after the semi-annual exams, has pencil interlineations showing which cadets were in each numbered section. Poe, listed as No. 17 in mathematics and No. 3 in French, is in the first section of each subject.

Studies in French occupied the first two academic years and concentrated on a facility to translate from French into English, not vice versa, as Thayer saw a competency in the language “only as a means of opening to the student the scientific works of Europe” (Church, p. 151). Park verifies this when he states, “the cadets learn to translate [French] freely, but . . . few of them [are] expected to speak [it] fluency” (p. 105). Samuel E. Tillman notes that from 1821 to 1859 instruction in French was taught by assigning “subjects in the grammar lesson, comprising rules and principles and their application by illustrative exercises, to be put upon the blackboard and explained and recited upon orally. The remaining members of the section would be called upon to read the reading lesson, performing aloud as much of the French text as the time permitted and then giving the English translation, either literal or free, as might be [page 3:] required. A due alteration was observed in assigning subjects in grammar and in reading”(15).

The matter of which texts Poe used has created a minor controversy. Carlisle Allan does not mention the mathematics texts and asserts that Gil Blas and L’Histoire de Charles XII were the French texts (16). Melvin Helfers asserts that the mathematics texts were Bourdon’s Algehra, translated by Lt. Ross, and Legendre’s Geometry and that the French texts were Gil Blas, Berard’s Lefons Franfaises and French Grammar(17). Allan does not list his sources and Helfers cites the 1832 Regulations of the U.S. Military Academy. Even the “Tentative Lists of Textbooks . . .” in The Centennial of the United States Military Academy and the academic histories of the Mathematics and French Departments in that volume are imprecise concerning the texts used during academic year 1830-31. The best available source is the 1831 Board of Visitors Report, which lists the texts in use that year in an Appendix, “Synopsis of the course of studies. . . .” In that synopsis the mathematics texts are listed as Lacroix’s Elements of Algehra and Legendre’s Elements of Geometry. Both texts were translated by John Farrar, Professor of Mathematics and Natural Philosophy at Cambridge, Massachusetts and published there by the University Press in 1825. Copies of both are in the Rare Book Room, USMA Library. The French texts are listed as Claudius Berard’s French Grammar and Lefons Franfaises, and the first volume of Gil Blas ( only the second-year cadets read from the remaining volumes of Gil Blas and Voltaire’s L’Histoire de Charles XII). I have not been able to obtain a copy of the French Grammar, but it is listed in the “Tentative List of Text-Books . . .” as A Grammar of the French Language (New York, 1826). A copy of the Lefons Fracaises is available in the Rare Book Room, USMA Library, and its complete listing is Lecons Franfaises a l’usage des Commencans et surtout des Etats-Unis a West-Point, 2d edition (New York: Chez Berard and Mondon, 1827).

The algebra to which Poe was exposed included equations of the first and second degree, square and cube roots of equations, and formation of powers; that is, it was rather straightforward fundamental algebra. It is difficult to determine how much of the geometry text Poe studied. We know from Cadet Harris’ letter of 5 December 1829 that the first section of mathematics in the fall of 1829 finished the algebra text and started geometry before the January exam. Assuming that Poe’s class the following year did the same, we still do not know how much they covered. In any case, the text was divided into eight sections: first principles (concerning straight lines), the circle, proportions of figures (surfaces and triangles), regular polygons and the measurement of the circle, planes and solid angles, polyhedrons, the sphere and spherical triangles, and the three round bodies (sphere, cone, cylinder).

Carroll Laverty has analyzed Poe’s use of mathematics throughout his work and has concluded that his three general interests were “mathematics as a limited form of deductive reasoning, the general data of algebra and geometry, and the calculus of probabilities(18). As Laverty notes, however, concerning Poe’s use of mathematical analogy to illustrate a point, for the most part Poe employed [column 2:] mathematical figures of speech that were common in the time(19). Given Poe’s innate intellectual curiosity and his previous background in private schools and the artillery, it would be extremely difficult to establish the specific source for his knowledge of specific mathematical principles. Suffice it to say that he studied, at West Point, certain elements of algebra and geometry, and that he did well enough to stand seventeenth among the eighty-seven fourth-classman who took the semi-annual exam in January 1831(20).

A more important consideration, however, is the amount of time Poe was required to spend preparing his lessons to achieve his standings of seventeenth in mathematics and third in French. I have attempted, in the foregoing pages, to present fairly the regimen of the Military Academy in 1830-31. The reaction of cadets to this regimen varied with the seriousness with which they took their studies. A cadet as serious as George Cullum, who stood third in his class of forty-three at graduation, wrote continually during his four years in the following vein: “I have been constantly engaged in my studies so much so that I have had on many occasions to get up before daylight ro study when I had a pretty hard lesson on hand. If one wishes to get along here and have a good standing in his class, it is very necessary that he should study pretty hard, as there are so many young men here that have an excellent education before coming here”(21). Many cadet letters reflect this approach. Even those cadets who had previous schooling admitted to studying as hard and as long as Cullum(22).

Yet there were other approaches to the regimen than exclusive, diligent application to study. Only twenty-four of the original one hundred and two members of Poe’s class graduated(23). Thomas W. Gibson and Timothy P. Jones, two of the eighty-eight who did not graduate, left memoirs which give some indication of the amount of time at least some of these men devoted to activities other than studying(24). The question of establishing what Poe did with his time is further clouded by the statement of another of his classmates, Allan B. Magruder. Magruder said that Poe was so accomplished a scholar that he “had no difficulty in preparing his recitations in his class and in obtaining the highest marks,” apparently without recourse to any preparation (letter to and cited by Woodberry, I, 70). Magruder’s testimony, although he was an extremely successful soldier, rising to the rank of Major General, may be suspect in that he was found deficient at the June examination in 1831 and discharged from the Military Academy (he stood only seventy-one of eighty-seven in mathematics at the January examination). He would thus have stood a bit in awe of Poe’s accomplishments as a scholar. It is also vitiated by his statement that Poe’s habits at the Military Academy “subjected him often to arrest and punishment, and effectually prevented his learning or discharging the duties of a soldier” (Woodberry, I, 70). That Poe was never arrested and that he received no punishment at all until he purposefully absented himself from academic and military duties in January 1831 has been well established by both Helfers and Allan and is verified by a careful examination of the Post Order Book for the period. Magruder’s hindsight may have been a bit dim or beclouded by the “Poe legend.” [page 4:]

Of more significant interest, however, are the letters and memoirs of the cadets who did graduate, some of them quite high in their classes, and the extracurricular activities they recount. These cadets report a significant amount of time spent with a literary society, a dialectic society, a lyceum, and an engineering society. Cullum, for example, speaks of a literary society: “Every Saturday evening we have a meeting for the purpose of literary improvement as our course of education here is almost purely scientific, which does not fit one very well to palaver in the world. We have regular debates and recitations. Many voluntary compositions are read by a reader selected by the society. The pieces are handed to him so that nobody but him knows the authors. You would be surprised to hear so many stories. Pages both serious and comic written in one week besides attending to our other studies”(25). Samuel P. Heintzelman also mentions a society, called the Lyceum, which also met on Saturday nights: “We had an address delivered at 8 o’clock by Cadet C. G. Ridgely, a member of the Lyceum. The subject was Natural History”(26).

The two societies Cullum and Heintzelman mention, the Literary Society and the Lyceum, are discussed by Roswell Park in his Sketch of the History. . . of West Point (pp. 117-119; see note 7). The Lyceum was concerned with Natural History, existed “for several years,” and was dissolved in 1831. The Literary Society was organized in 1816 “for the improvement of the cadets in literary and classical acquirements.” Originally called the “Amosophic Society,” it included from twenty-five to fifty members and lasted until 1823, at which time it possessed a library of some five hundred volumes. It was merged in 1823 with another society, the Philomathean, and then, in 1824, with the Ciceronian. The resultant organization was called the Dialectic Society and has continued until present times. Members in the 1820’s and 30’s presented anonymous papers which were read before the society by the Reader, an office established in 1828. By 1840 the library of the Dialectic Society, being the resultant accumulation of the libraries of the merged societies, had grown to “several hundred volumes, chiefly of historical and classical works.” Albert Church’s reminiscences of the society give some idea of its activities: “We had many able debaters and writers. All took great pains in preparing for their several duties, and our weekly meetings were of great interest and profit. We occasionally had public meetings to which the professors, officers and ladies were invited. At one of these meetings, which at 11 o’clock was adjourned to the next evening and continued till 11 again, the question involved the relative merits of Queen Elizabeth and Mary Queen of Scots, and was debated with marked ability” (p. 167). The Dialectic Society was active enough and involved enough members of the corps to warrant a meeting room of its own from the very limited facilities then available at West Point (Church, p. 137).

That the Literary Society was not the only intellectual extracurricular activity at West Point in the late 1820’s and early 1830’s is demonstrated by the reading habits of several cadets. Heintzelman notes in his diary that he did a great deal of reading. On two nights he stayed up “nearly all . . . night” reading novels; on another [column 2:] occasion he read the three volumes of another novel in a week(27). James Ellis records a more systematic plan: “I have commenced a system of reading which I follow out closely. I have now: Silliman’s Journal, North American and American Quarterly Reviews, Quintilians Institutes of the Orator, and the Federalist in my room. All of which I read by turns so as to avoid weariness”(28). In addition to his reading, Ellis mentions in the same letter that he has duties connected with the Literary Society (“co-editor of a paper to which I furnish a piece of poetry or prose every week”) and another club (unidentified — probably the Lyceum). And he does not rake into consideration, he writes, “the periodicals: The Republic of Letters, S. L. Messenger, Waldu’s [? handwriting blurred] Circulating Library, New York Mirror; and a number of others which I read at any odd time which may turn up.” A month rarer he summarizes his activity in another letter: “Besides the usual course which has always been considered sufficient to occupy a person fully, I am taking lessons on the flute, studying Mineralogy, performing my duties as a member of the society, attending the club which I mentioned, painting scenes for a little Theatre which my class has raised, and reading a great deal”(29).

Thus, although many cadets reacted to the regimen at West Point with diligent application to their studies, many were able to find the time for other intellectual pursuits. Weekly meetings of the Dialectic Society involved creative writing of both poetry and prose as well as expository critical pieces. A great deal of extracurricular reading was pursued, both to support the activities of the Dialectic Society and to satisfy individual curiosity. That Poe participated in these activities, although uncertain, is at least possible. That he would not have been excluded from participation in the Dialectic Society because he was a first-year student is demonstrated by the lack of discrimination between classes among the members of the Corps of Cadets in the 1820’s. As Church writes:

. . . there was little distinction of classes in their social and friendly intercourse. Members of the first and fourth, third and second, roomed together indiscriminately, and some of my most intimate associates and friends [when he was a first-year cadet] were members of the higher classes. Rooms in barracks and tents in camp were drawn by lot, with few exceptions for cadet officers and assistant professors, whose rooms, convenient to their duties, were specially assigned by order. The choice of room mates was only limited to the company, and the lucky sets chose their rooms, in order, in the proper barrack, the most aristocratic first class man was likely to go to the poorest room in the cock loft, as the most humble plebe. (“Personal Reminiscences,” p. 134)

That Poe took advantage of extracurricular reading is again uncertain, but probable because of his own curiosity, because of his written request to John Allan to send him books (6 November 1830, asking Allan to forward to him “a copy of the Cambridge Mathematics”; Ostrom, I, 38), and because of the prevalence of such activity among his contemporaries.

That Poe ever took advantage of the library at West Point is another point of uncertainty. Circulation records for the period are extant and do not show Poe’s name. The regulations provided that books could be checked out for a week at a time without special permission, and [page 5:] longer with special permission(30). However, the library was open every day except Sunday (when it was closed all day) from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and from 3 to 6 p.m. for use of books in the library(31). In addition, examination of circulation records of those books that were withdrawn from the library reveals that fourth classmen did occasionally check out books(32); hence, they probably could also use the books in the library without withdrawing them.

The library catalogue published in May 1830 lists 2852 volumes(33). By far the greatest number of books are in the scientific fields of engineering (431 vols), natural philosophy and navigation (387 vols), mathematics (366 vols), and military art, history, memoirs, etc. (508 vols). A significant number, however, are classed under the headings of history, biography, travels (390 vols) and miscellaneous literature (317 vols). Under the last heading are included seventeen different periodicals, eleven encyclopedias, and collections of works on philosophy and literature. Among the natural philosophy books are Copernicus’ De Revolutionibus Orbium Celestium (1543), Descarres’ Principia Philosophiae (1672) and Traité de la Lumière (1726), six listings of Kepler’s works including De Stella Nova (1606), five of Laplace’s including Exposition du Système du Monde (1813) and an 1823 translation, six of Newton’s including the Principia Mathematica (1822) and two translations, and works by Priestly, Ptolemy, Ticho-Brahe, and Lavoisier. Among the histories, memoirs, and travel books are Franklin’s Narrative of . . . the Polar Sea (1819-27), Irving’s Christopher Columbus (1828), and Lewis and Clarke’s Travels (1814).

Circulation records indicate that both cadets and instructors used the library for more than just reference for course material. During Poe’s stay, for example, three instructors of mathematics checked out such books as Hume’s History of England, the Edinburgh and North American Reviews, Beattie’s Elements of Moral Science, Cogan’s Ethical Questions, Scott’s Life of Napoleon, Williston’s Eloquence of the United States, Plutarch’s Lives, the orations of Demosthenes, and Chalmer’s British Essayists. Cadets checked out such books as Rollin’s Ancient History, Chalmer’s British Essayists, Hunt’s Byron, Stewart’s Moral Philosophy, Laplace’s Astronomy and Mechanique Celeste, Milne’s Essay on Comets, the Edinburgh Review, and Josephus. The regimen Albert Church established for himself as an instructor is indicative of the wide range of interests pursued by instructors in the 1820’s. Church, Assistant Professor of Mathematics from 1828 to 1831 first set aside “a few specified hours” each day for the preparation of his classes. In addition, however, he set aside “a few to the critical reading of Ancient and English history and the study of English literature” (p. 165).

One can state, then, that the range of interests among the cadets and faculty at West Point during Poe’s stay was, if not as “rear as that of New York, Boston, or Charleston society, certainly greater than the courses studied in the curriculum. How many of these activities Poe enjoyed must remain conjecture. Suffice it to say that the course of study and the regimen of West Point in 1830 and 1831 were not so spartan as to prevent many of his fellow cadets and officer instructors from taking advantage of a wide range of intellectual pursuits.



(1) Arthur H. Quinn, Edgar Allan Poe: A Critical Biography (New York: Appleton, 1941), p. 174.

(2) Edgar Poe the Poet (Charlottesville: Univ. Press of Virginia, 1969), p. 44.

(3) The Letters of Edgar Allan Poe, ed. John W. Ostrom, rev. ed., 2 vols. (New York: Gordian Press, 1966), 1, 38.

(4) Poe: Journalist and Critic (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State Univ. Press, 1969), pp 19 and 38.

(5) General Regulations for the Army, War Department, 1825, No. 1337: “Each cadet, previous to his being admitted into the military academy, must be able to read and write well, and to perform with facility and accuracy, the various operations of the four ground rules of arithmetic — of reduction — of simple and compound proportion, — and vulgar and decimal fractions.” No. 1339 specifies the time of reporting. “. . . between the 1st and 20th June annually; and [candidates] shall be examined in the last week of that month.”

(6) Letter to Alfred Huidekoper, 21 June 1832. Special Collections, USMA Library, West Point, N.Y.

(7) Roswell Park, A Sketch of the History and Topography of West Point . . . (Philadelphia: Henry Perkins, 1840), pp. 102-103. Park graduated from the Military Academy in 1831. Albert Church in “Personal Reminiscences,” Twelfth Annual Reunion of the Association of Graduates . . . U.S. Military Academy . . . . . June 9, 1881 (East Saginaw, Mich.: E. W. Lyon, 1881), alludes to the work the cadets did with munitions: “On one occasion a careless fellow set fire to the rocket which he was making. The flames came up through the cracks in the floor where our class was making ball cartridges” (p. 148). Church was Assistant Professor of Mathematics at the Military Academy from 1828 to 1831. Munitions work was probably limited to the first classmen (fourth-year men), whose course included military pyrotechny and who used Lallemand’s Treatise on Artillery as a text, although the new cadets may have been detailed as assistants. In a letter of 1832, George Cullum notes that fourth classmen (first-year men) received instruction in artillery drill to include firing the pieces, but says nothing of their instruction in preparation of munitions (Letter to Alfred Huidekoper, 30 July 1832, Special Collections, USMA Library). Memoirs and letters describing the conditions of cadet life abound and are often cited in the various histories of West Point. I shall limit my citations, however, to those reporting on events as close as possible in time to Poe’s stay at West Point from June 1830 to February 1831.

(8) Park, p. 103; Church, p. 148.

(9) Battalion Order No. 56, July 1830, specifies dancing class for “subscribers” from the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd classes (fourth-, third-, and second-year men). Post Order Book No. 5 (1827-1832), USMA Archives, USMA Library In addition, the Cadet Pay Accounts for July and August 1830 show that, under the heading “ Dancing Master and Concert,” 110 cadets were charged 51.00 (Poe among them) and 73 were charged 57.15. All of Poe’s class (the first-year men) were charged t1.00. This, together with the Battalion order, indicates that the fourth classmen did not participate in the dancing instruction.

(10) Letter to Alfred Huidekoper, 8 July 1829.

(11) Letter to William M. Bailey, 25 August 1830, Special Collections, USMA Library.

(12) Battalion Order No. 82, Camp Eaton [the summer encampment], 30 August 1830, and Order No. 105, USMA, dated 30 August 1830. Post Order Book No. 5 (1827-1832), USMA Archives, USMA Library.

(13) Regulations for the U.S. Army, Article 78 (Military Academy), Appendix A (Distribution of Studies, and Employment of Time, during the Day), p. 389.

(14) Appendix A (Synopsis of the course of studies at the Military Academy), Report of Board of Visitors to the Secretary of War, 21 June 1831, Archives, USMA Library. Cited hereafter as Board of Visitors Report, 1831.

(15) “The Academic History of the Military Academy, 1802-1902,” in The Centennial of the United States Military Academy . . . [page 6:] 2 vols., 1: Addresses and Histories (Washington: GPO, 1904), 320.

(16) “Cadet Edgar Allan Poe, U.S.A.,” American Mercury, 29 (1933), 452.

(17) “The Military Career of Edgar Allan Poe” (M.A. thesis, Duke, 1949), pp. 58-59.

(18) Carroll D. Laverty, “Science and Pseudo-Science in the Writings of Edgar Allan Poe” (Diss., Duke, 1951), pp. 22-28.

(19) The mathematical figure of speech which Laverty cites is from “Scheherazade” in The Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe, ed. James A. Harrison (New York: Crowell, 1902), V1, 94. Laverty cites, as evidence of the common use of such figures, Thomas C. Upham’s Elements of Mental Philosophy ( New York, 1841); Chamber’s Information for the People, 5th American ed. (Philadelphia, 1853); and the Farmer’s Cabinet, 7 (15 January 1843), 191.

(20) “Merit Roll of 4th Class, Mathematics, 9 January 1831,” in Post Order Book No. 5 (1827-1832), USMA Archives, USMA Library. J. Thomas Russell, in Edgar Allan Poe: The Army Years (West Point, N.Y.: U.S. Military Academy, 1972), incorrectly records the number of Poe’s class as sixty-seven (p. 14); but both the aforementioned Merit Roll and the Register of Merit, No. 1, 1817 to 1835 (Archives, USMA Library) list eighty-seven cadets of Poe’s class as having taken the January examinations.

(21) Letter to Alfred Huidekoper, 22 November 1829 (Cullum’s first year). Special Collections, USMA Library.

(22) John C. Pemberton, USMA 1837, had been sent by his parents to S. C. Walker’s seminary in Philadelphia for a year’s schooling (August 1829 to June 1830) and then to the University of Pennsylvania for three years before entering West Point the summer of 1833. He received a certificate from W. H. Delancey, Acting Provost of the University of Pennsylvania, concerning his standing of twelve in the junior class which cited his “uniform excellency” of character and his “general assiduity of study.” Yet he wrote to his parents in September of his first year that “we have already [in three weeks] gone through as much Algebra as I have looked at. We have for one recitation 10, 12, or 13 pages, which it is absolutely necessary not only to be able to put on the board but to explain every particular.” Although at the time of writing the above he got nothing less than the maximum grade, Pemberton finished 27 of the 50 who graduated in 1837. Letter dated 20 September 1833. Microfilm, USMA Library, John C. Pemberton family papers. Original at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

(23) List of Cadets Admitted into the U.S. Military Academy (West Point: USMA Printing Office, 1912) and Register of Officers and Cadets at the U.S. Military Academy, 1832 through 1836. Archives, USMA Library.

(24) Thomas W. Gibson, “Poe at West Point,” Harpers New Monthly Magazine, 35 (1867), 754-756 (reprinted in John H. Ingram, Edgar Allan Poe, 2 vols. [London, 1880], 1, 82-87). Timothy Pickering Jones, “Interview,” New York Sun, 10 May 1903 and 29 May 1904 (reprinted in George E. Woodberry, The Life of Edgar Allan Poe, 2 vols. [New York, 1909], 1, 369-372). That these two reminiscences are of dubious reliability in many aspects has been well established by both Carlisle Allan and Melvin Helfers and has been accepted by all scholars since Quinn’s biography in 1941. Yet they do represent, aside from their comments on Poe, a fairly accurate picture of why many cadets were court-martialed and dismissed from the Military Academy. Offenses listed in the Post Order Book during Poe’s stay included going to a tavern where “spirituous or intoxicating liquors are sold,” “making use” of the same, going beyond limits (five cadets were court-martialed for that offense, found guilty, and sentenced to be dismissed; but, because of the frequency of the offense among the corps, the sentence was remitted to two or three months confinement), neglect of academic and military duties, and assault. Punishment was either confinement for a period of time or dismissal.

(25) Letter to his sister, 14 February 1833. Special Collections, USMA Library.

(26) Diary of Samuel P. Heintzelman, USMA 1826. Special Collections, USMA Library. Entry is dated 4 June 1825.

(27) Diary entries for 15 and 17 March, and 2, 3, 6, 8, and 9 [column 2:] July 1825. The works he read were Fenimore Cooper’s Lionel Lincoln (1825), Charles R. Maturin’s Albigenses (1824), and two works I have not been able to identify: Highways and Biways [sic] and Tales of an American Landlord. In addition, on 13 July he noted that he had finished “Marmion,” probably Walter Scott’s poem of martial adventure. Highways and Biways may be the same book that was reviewed in the Port Folio, 17 (January-June 1824), “High-Ways and By-Ways; or Tales of the Roadside, picked up in the French Provinces, by a Walking Gentleman” (London, Whittakers, 1823) .

(28) Letter to his brother, Charles, 19 February 1835. Special Collections, USMA Library.

(29) Letter to his brother, Charles, 29 March 1835. The theater group, although mentioned in the diary of John Bratt (USMA 1837) two years later (February and April 1837), is not mentioned in any cadet letters or diaries before 1835.

(30) Regulations for the Interior Police and Discipline of the United States Military Academy (Newburgh: Parmenter and Spalding, 1829), No. 126: “No cadet shall draw more than one volume at a time, nor keep any volume longer than one week without special permission.”

(31) Although the Regulations for Interior Police and Discipline . . . Of 1829 specify only that the librarian will be present in the library from 2 to 4 P.M. every Saturday to receive and deliver books (No. 125), an order in June 1830 specifies that, in the future, the library will be kept open daily except Sunday from 9 A.M. to 1 P.M. and from 3 to 6 P.M. (Order No. 71, USMA 1 June 1830. Post Order Book No. 5, 1827-32. Archives, USMA Library.) J. Thomas Russell’s citation of the 1829 Regulations . . . (Edgar Allan Poe: The Army Years, p. 15) does not take cognizance of the change in library hours indicated in the Post Orders.

(32) Circulation Records, USMA Library, Cadets and Officers, 18291831, in Archives, USMA Library.

(33) Catalogue of the Library of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, May 1830 (New York: J. Desnoues, 1830), Archives, USMA Library.


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