Military and Oral History Conference:
Between Memory and History
Yet all shall be forgot…
Luke Reynolds, Hunter College, CUNY
Oral history is not something we usually associate with the early nineteenth century, but since the majority of men fighting in the Napoleonic Wars were illiterate, oral history, of one type or another, is one of our only options when it comes to examining the experiences of the common soldier. The Recollections of Rifleman Harris is probably the best known account by a private soldier of the Peninsular War; those recollections were transcribed by Captain Henry Curling in 1835, as Harris recounted his service while working in a Soho shoe shop.
This paper, in line with the conference themes of military oral history and “between war and memory,” seeks to examine how accurate the recollections of a Rifleman turned cobbler can be 25 years later. This paper will accomplish this by comparing Harris’ Recollections to other eyewitness accounts (based on diary entries, letters, and other forms of memory aids and notes from the time the events took place) and those “official” accounts found in the published histories of the time. It will also examine what information we have on Henry Curling, the transcriber, and any influence he may have had on Harris.