Cadet Edgar Allan Poe

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A certificate of “standing” in my class is all that I have any right to expect. Anything farther—a letter to a friend in Paris—or to the Marquis—would be a kindness which I should never forget.

Most respectfully, Yr. Obt. St., Edgar A Poe.

Some of the scholars who know of the existence of this letter regard it as enlightening concerning Poe’s unbalanced frame of mind at the start of an ill-understood portion of his life. Others, pointing to the possible pun in “Poe-lish,” consider it an obvious though somewhat ill-conceived joke. In history it is generally foolish to say that we will never know something, but this curious letter will probably remain a mystery. Colonel Thayer, at any rate, did not take it seriously. As though in concurrence with John Allan, he never answered it.

Edgar Allan Poe eventually became a fixture of West Point tradition, partly because of his later fame, partly because of his strange behavior as a cadet. The corps itself has embellished the legend of his departure until scarcely a modern cadet knows the truth of it. The most popular version says that Poe was filled suddenly with overwhelming disgust at the academy one evening at retreat parade, and planting his rifle in the ground by its fixed bayonet, carefully placed his full-dress hat upon it and walked from the field and straight through the gate. Another, more flamboyant rendition tells how Poe, already determined to leave, heard the uniform for a parade announced as “white cartridge belts, under arms”; he appeared wearing nothing else and was summarily court-martialed.

Perhaps the most singular aspect of his cadet career, his very failure to graduate or survive even his first year, is what has endeared him to the subsequent legions of the corps. Every cadet dreams many times of alleviating the mental and physical strains of academy life by the simplest of means—removing them entirely—and to each of them in his moment of stress Edgar Allan Poe has become the Man Who Got Away With It.