Rifleman Harris

–from www.completeseanbean.com

I just finished a most intriguing book that was first published in 1848. The full title is Recollections of Rifleman Harris (Old 95th) with Anecdotes of his Officers and his Comrades by Benjamin Randell Harris. Rifleman Harris was an English foot soldier from Dorset who served in the British army from 1803 to 1814. Rifleman Harris fought in the Peninsular War (1808-1814). Before the Peninsular War, Harris was trained and then sent to Ireland on a recruiting mission. He then was deployed to Denmark and saw action near Copenhagen. Harris was illiterate, but after his service, he became a cobbler in London. One of the officers from the war (Captain Henry Curling) found Harris and persuaded Harris to tell him of his wartime experiences. Harris lived to see his experiences published by Curling.

I have to tell that the only war book I recall reading previously and deliberately was Band of Brothers by Stephen Ambrose after watching the TV series. Again, I read the story of Rifleman Harris only because I recently discovered the Sharpe series. Richard Sharpe is a soldier from the 95th Rifles based on a fictional character created by Bernard Cornwell. Apparently, Mr. Cornwell read Rifleman Harris’ book and was inspired to create his Sharpe character. One of the soldiers that Sharpe commands is a “Rifleman Harris,” loosely based on Benjamin Randell Harris.

Harris’ account of his Peninsular War years was just as bloody and violent as the Sharpe series presents. One of his first tasks as a soldier was to be part of a firing squad. Harris recounts numerous times how one of his comrades died or was killed. An example is how a fellow soldier’s head is blown off by a cannonball and the trunk was still upright briefly. Another is how a comrade was shot in the thigh and the bullet had hit an artery so death came quickly. Amazingly, Harris survived battle after battle and march after march during the war. He was finally brought down by some sort of ague (fever) contracted after marching through a marshy area near Walcheren, the Netherlands. Harris then served in a veteran’s unit but the fever returned again and he could not make an assignment. Therefore, he never received a pension from the army. Not much was known about his personal life except that he was born in Portsea, Hampshire, and his father was a shepherd. After the army, he established his cobbler’s shop in London. Harris received a medal for his army service in 1848, one for which application had to be made and one had to be alive to apply after serving and surviving one of the many wars from 1793 to 1814.

–MGSM (Military general service medal) from Wikpedia

Only recently did I see the last two installments of the Sharpe series on PBS’ Masterpiece Theatre, the first Sharpe’s I have seen. This wonderful series began in 1993 and the final installment was filmed in 2008. The series stars Sean Bean as Richard Sharpe. Currently, I am on the sixth installment from the beginning (Sharpe’s Gold) thanks to Netflix. I highly recommend the series. Somehow, I missed this series through the years–or my local PBS affiliate did not show it–who knows? I am just glad I found the shows and they have piqued my interest in the Napoleonic Wars. Who would have thought that I would want to know more about Lord Wellington?

–Duke of Wellington from www.theodorewhite.net


  4 comments for “Rifleman Harris

  1. IAN BRANTON
    June 28, 2010 at 8:04 PM

    HARRIS SPENT MANY YEARS IN COUFU AFTER THE PENINSULAR CAMPAIGN, AND, AS A SERVING SOLDIER, WAS EMPLOYED THERE AS A SCHOOLMASTER!

    THE MOST, SLILL, AUTHORATIVE ACCOUNT OF WELLINGTON’S CAMPAIGN IS THAT OF SIR CHARLES OMAN (6/7 VOLUMES) – BUT NAPIER’S HISTORY IS A SPLENDID RECORD (AND HE WAS THERE – LIKE HARRIS).

  2. June 28, 2010 at 8:16 PM

    Thank you, Ian, for the info.

    So Harris was more like his TV counterpart in the Sharpe’s series after all?

    I will delve further into the life of Rifleman Harris.

  3. July 25, 2010 at 3:09 AM

    I’m going to make it a point to pick up this book.

    Without question Bernard Cornwell is my favorite author. I’ve read everything he’s written (and they’re all on my shelf) with the exception of the two novels that he wrote with his wife, Susannah Kells.

    As a child I loved to read, after I graduated from college I guess I focused on other things. One day I walked into a Barnes and Nobles and picked up one of Bernard Cornwell’s books and remembered why I loved to read. As long as I live, I won’t forget just what Bernard Cornwell gave back to me.

    He’s an awesome author!!!

  4. July 25, 2010 at 3:40 AM

    Yes he is! And thanks for the comment. I am reading the Sharpe series in chronological order and do not see myself being interrupted in this quest anytime in the near future. I am on Sharpe’s Havoc (1809) set in Portugal. One of the more recently written ones (2003). It was an insert between Sharpe’s Rifles and Sharpe’s Eagle. I cannot express the joy I have experienced in reading about this fictional character and period. Of course, after Sharpe, I intend to read the rest of Mr. Cornwell’s books.

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