You're in the Army Now
On November 18, 1827, a twenty-two-year-old Private Perry, Battery H, First Artillery, arrived on the Brigantine Waltham at Fort Moultrie in Charleston Harbor, South Carolina. It had been a ten-day trip for the thirty privates in Battery H, reassigned from Fort Independence, the regimental headquarters in Boston. A private's pay was five dollars a month, but Private Perry, who was a capable, trustworthy sort, found his pay doubled during his time at Fort Moultrie—year one of his five-year commitment to the military.
Even though Edgar Allan Poe “aged” himself four years in order to enlist in the Army without parental consent, many years later he took to shaving anywhere from two to four years off his actual age—which, in the case of the latter, was a pretty good trick considering his mother died two years before his falsified birth date.
Poe had enlisted in the U.S. Army about two months before Tamerlane was published. He was really only eighteen—not twenty-two—at the time. Until the end of the 1800s, the minimum age for enlistment was sixteen, and the new recruit, “Edgar A. Perry” as he called himself, met that requirement. But there was another rule he was hoping to avoid: anyone enlisting who was under the age of twenty-one had to have written parental consent. Still so fresh off the last break with his foster father—who believed Edgar had gone to sea “to seek his fortune,” which shows Allan possible of either romance or cynicism—Poe probably wasn't anxious for any personal contact. So Henri Le Rennet, a Bostonian, became Edgar A. Perry that summer, and he aged four years with the stroke of a pen.
What did a person like Edgar Allan Poe do in the U.S. Army?
In an ironic touch, toward the end of Battery H's posting at Fort Moultrie, “Perry” worked his way into a job requiring blacksmithing and mechanical skills. What was his job title, this young man poised to become a major figure in American literature, this young man hard at work forging a persona? “Artificer.”
The military life had always been attractive to Poe. Despite the deep disruptions in his early family life, his associations with the U.S. Army had always been positive. There was his grandfather, “General” Poe, honored by that Revolutionary War hero, Lafayette. There was the Poe's own experience in the Junior Morgan Rifleman Club. This family and personal history gave him an emotional foothold in the military, and the life appealed to whatever in his nature craved order, stability, and respect. Coincidentally, he served as the company quartermaster, responsible for food and supplies—the same duties as his grandfather, all those years before.
Thirty-five years after Poe's stay at Fort Moultrie, the U.S. Army decamped, moving to the stronger position of Fort Sumter, soon shelled by the Confederates in the opening salvo of the Civil War. But in 1827–28, peace was unbroken—in fact, it was maintained by stranglehold in Charleston, in the aftermath of the aborted slave rebellion led by Denmark Vesey five years earlier. The restrictive laws affecting communications and movements among free and enslaved blacks had no impact on the languid coastal lifestyle experienced by the young soldier Perry, who had plenty of free time for absorbing the atmosphere—all preparation for writing.