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The Recollections of Rifleman Harris Paperback – August 10, 2015
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About the Author
BENJAMIN HARRIS was a young shepherd from Dorset who joined the army in 1802 and later joined the 95th Rifles. He told his story to Henry Curling, an officer on the half-pay of the Oxfordshire Light Infantry, who came across him long after the war was over when Harris, discharged through ill health in 1814, was working as a cobbler in Soho. CHRISTOPHER HIBBERT served as an infantry officer during the war, was twice wounded and was awarded the Military Cross in 1945. He is a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and an Hon. D. Litt of Leicester University. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
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The value in this authentic work is the description of the life of the common soldier, the tacit acceptance of appalling conditions, 300 lashes for minor offences and totally incompetent medical care.
The poem describing the death of Moore at Corunna is well known, less well known are the dreadful conditions of the British soldiers retreating in defeat by the French, barefoot across the mountains of northern Spain, to reach Corunna and evacuation to England.
Also poorly remembered now is "Walcheren Fever" which accounted for the total destruction of a British invasion force; its symptoms are well described by Harris who suffered from it but survived although eventually discharged from the army as a consequence.
Since the writer is a shepherd and part time shoemaker, his writing is rather straightforward than eloquent, and he recalls events in no particular order, so it is not a linear history, but it gives a good feel of the daily life on campaign of the regular foot soldiers, a picture we seldom see.
As a Rifleman, Harris was frequently, as he states it, it the van of the vanguard on advance, and the tail of the rearguard on retreat, which neither he nor his General liked to do. He was heavily involved in the Penninsular Campaign against Napoleon, and describes action in the battles of Roliça, Vimeiro, and the march from Portugal into Spain. He loved the glorious appearance presented by the advancing Army, colours flying, appearing invincible, but also describes the desperate fatigue and debilitating hunger of the long retreat to Corunna and their pathetic arrival at the coast, where the sailors had to push the weakened survivors and their wives and children up the rope ladders onto the troopships to take them home to England.
Harris' recollections include several interesting vignettes of life on campaign. He met Wellington before he was made a Duke, and describes General Craufurd creeping among his weary troops as they lay hidden in the grass to refresh and inspire them with a canteen full of rum during a long battle watch. He also describes the severe discipline on campaign, but maintains that only by dint of that strict control did so many of them as did survive a grueling retreat to return home. He also describes several instances where, given a few minutes or hours to rest, he took out the cobbling tools he carried in his pack to repair shoes and boots for the men and officers who still had any.
Overall, Harris gives his reader an invaluable glimpse into the life of a foot soldier of 200 years ago. We see accounts by and about officers with much greater frequency, which is what makes Rifleman Harris' recollections so valuable. Through his eyes we experience the excitement, thrills, chills, and hardships of the common soldier.
Most recent customer reviews
It was an interesting report on war and all of its hard times and trouble