'The Pale Blue Eye' Sees Edgar Allan Poe as Young Cadet at West Point — Was He Really in the Military?

'The Pale Blue Eye' sees a young Edgar Allan Poe studying at West Point. So, was the writer in the military? Details inside on his career.

Allison DeGrushe - Author

Jan. 6 2023, Published 4:34 p.m. ET

Edgar Allan Poe
Source: Getty Images

The father of modern detective fiction, Edgar Allan Poe, takes matters into his own hands in The Pale Blue Eye.

The gothic murder mystery, which hit Netflix on Friday, Jan. 6, 2023, follows veteran detective Augustus Landor (Christian Bale) investigating a series of murders at West Point in 1830. Along the way, he enlists the help of an eccentric military cadet named Edgar Allan Poe (Harry Melling), who later becomes one of the most famous writers of all time.

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Before you ask, no, the film is not inspired by actual events — in fact, it's based on the 2003 novel of the same name by Louis Bayard. Nevertheless, many fans (including us) can't help but wonder: Was Edgar Allen Poe in the military? Let's find out!

Plus, stick around to see if he really did attend West Point.

Harry Melling as Edgar Allan Poe in 'The Pale Blue Eye'
Source: Netflix

Harry Melling as Edgar Allan Poe in 'The Pale Blue Eye'

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Edgar Allan Poe's military career was short-lived.

As it turns out, one of the greatest writers of all time was in the military, albeit for a short period.

Desperate for financial stability, he enlisted in the United States Army under the name "Edgar A. Perry" on May 27, 1827. He also claimed he was 22 years old even though he was 18. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers stated Poe joined the Army as a private for a five-year term in the First Regiment of Artillery.

Throughout the fall of 1827, Poe served in Boston at Fort Independence, but, by November, he was transferred to Fort Moultrie, South Carolina. While there, he thrived and prepared shells for artillery. A little over a year later, Poe relocated again, this time to Fortress Monroe at the entrance to the Chesapeake Bay.

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Harry Melling as Edgar Allan Poe and Edgar Allan Poe
Source: Netflix; Getty Images

'The Pale Blue Eye' actor Harry Melling (left) bears an uncanny resemblance to the real Edgar Allan Poe (right).

After just two years in the military, Poe reached the rank of Sergeant Major for Artillery, which, according to the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, was "the highest enlisted rank open to him." Then, in a shocking turn of events, he found a replacement and quit the Army in favor of attending the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

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Edgar Allan Poe did attend West Point, but not for long.

After requesting to end his first-year enlistment early, the Army told Poe he would be discharged if he reconciled with his wealthy foster father, John Allan. Following the death of his wife Frances, John agreed to help and used his influence to secure Poe a spot at West Point. The then-21-year-old poet entered the academy in March 1830. As expected, Poe thrived in the classroom.

However, despite his experience in the Army, the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers noted he struggled with the military academy's brutal discipline, long marches, and pathetic excuse for food. He reportedly told John, "the study requisite is incessant, and the discipline exceedingly rigid." If only Poe knew about the extensive workload in the 21st century!

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Harry Melling as Edgar Allan Poe in 'The Pale Blue Eye'
Source: Netflix

Henry Melling (right) plays Edgar Allan Poe as a young cadet at West Point in 'The Pale Blue Eye'; Christian Bale (left) plays Detective Augustus Landor.

In January 1831, Poe quit his classes; two months later, he was court-martialed and formally dismissed from West Point. Now, although The Pale Blue Eye is purely a work of fiction, writer-director Scott Cooper saw the mystery film as an opportunity to convey an origin story of sorts for the writer.

He told Tudum, "These events that occur in our film shaped his worldview and helped him become the writer that he became –– with the recurring themes that deal with the questions of death, and the effects of decomposition and reanimation of the dead and mourning –– all those things that are considered part of his dark romanticism."

The Pale Blue Eye is now streaming on Netflix.

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