For the love of God, Sargeant Major!
November 11, 2018 7:24 AM   Subscribe

In discussions of great American writers who were also military veterans, the name Edgar Allan Poe is unlikely to come up. Yet it should: the iconically doomed poet and inventor of the modern detective story served as a soldier for several of his formative years. Furthermore, in considering a life often marked by painful loss and failure, it might surprise many readers to learn Poe was something of a successful and motivated soldier—that is, until he wasn’t. Novelist (and veteran) Brian Van Reet writes on Edgar Allan Poe's brief career in the U.S. Army.
posted by Cash4Lead (8 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Poe's The Cask of Amontillado is based on a story he heard while stationed at Fort Independence on Castle Island in Boston.
Two lieutenants, Robert F. Massie and Gustavus Drane, had argued over a card game. Drane, who nobody liked, killed the popular Massie in the duel.

Massie’s friends were so angered, the legend went, that they got Drane drunk and sealed him up in a vault within the fort.
posted by adamg at 7:41 AM on November 11, 2018 [6 favorites]

In interviews given long after the fact, one of these former roommates recalled Poe was often drunk, while the other claimed he had never seen Poe drink. Accounts suggest the former roommate was a liar, and the latter, a pyromaniac.

This killed me.
posted by es_de_bah at 8:21 AM on November 11, 2018 [9 favorites]

This is so fascinating and sad - especially, flaming out after the death of his second mother. It’s Army as hell, and I can easily see it - as I can the loneliness that makes its way through a lot of his works. It’s a hard thing to go from having two families with the hope of a third to having zero families in a short time.
posted by corb at 8:27 AM on November 11, 2018 [3 favorites]

On the one hand, it's not always a good idea to engage in psychoanalysis of the author based on their works. On the other hand, I've thought for a long time that the hypersensitivity/hypervigiliance of "Fall of the House of Usher" and "Tell-Tale Heart" were too vivid and spot-on to be mere observation.
posted by GenderNullPointerException at 8:37 AM on November 11, 2018 [2 favorites]

I've always been inspired by Poe's life story because it is so uninspiring. He was a disaster boy from start to finish and he still managed to become beloved of generations.

Hecker is one of the few scholars to have rigorously considered Poe’s military career as it relates to his poetic sensibility. This approach is novel in the wider field of Poe studies but not surprising given Hecker’s similarities with his subject. Both he and Poe were artillerymen with a literary bent. Sadly, Major Hecker was killed in action in Najaf, Iraq, in 2006.

Jesus, what a waste.

posted by Countess Elena at 9:13 AM on November 11, 2018 [7 favorites]

Private Poe, coming this fall.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 10:32 AM on November 11, 2018

great American writers who were also military veterans...

Poe was out of the Army – dead, in fact – long before the Civil War started, but we do have an account from Mark Twain, who served with the Confederacy for a few weeks before deciding he didn’t think much of the experience. So he left.

Twain also has been quoted as saying, “Our Civil War was a blot on our history, but not as great a blot as the buying and selling of Negro souls.”
posted by LeLiLo at 1:15 PM on November 11, 2018 [2 favorites]

Related: talented 19th century writers who signed up and began a promising career in the army before burning out: Nietzsche was a model cadet until sidelined by injury, later re-enlisted in the Franco-Prussian war, and was traumatized with some serious PTSD. His writing whips back and forth with complex feelings about this.
posted by ovvl at 3:27 PM on November 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

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