- Memoirs of a Sergeant: The 43rd Light Infantry During the Peninsular War
This is a memoir by a man who opens his account with the words "I have the advantage of being an Irishman." He was a man who fought in the ranks of Wellington's army and was a veteran of the Peninsular War. First published anonymously in 1835, this "new" edition is a very basic reprint (no index, no maps, and no editorial comment or assistance) of the first edition, largely devoid of context. But, as a simple narrative of events from the perspective of a noncommissioned officer in the ranks of an active and interesting unit, it is still of value.
Of course, as a narrative written after the events described, it does have limitations. There is little in the way of analysis. Descriptions of key events are limited to what the author saw or experienced from his restricted point of view. Sometimes the narrative is forced to rely on what must have been recounted at second- or third-hand, by comrades or by camp rumour, and, inevitably, some of the material is questionable. Sometimes, the memoir does seem to be taken from other published accounts or histories. Also, those interested in military matters may well object to the rather lengthy and turgid ramblings about the author's religious state of mind—something evidently designed to appeal to his contemporary Methodists.
Although fairly balanced, like many Peninsular War narratives, when discussing the qualities of the French, the author is less circumspect when describing the people of Spain and Portugal. Religious ill-feeling possibly exacerbates this trait.
Yet, the book still emerges as a useful first-person account of service up to 1812 when the author was invalided home and had more time for questions of faith. It is informative about the role of light infantry (especially along the Coa), the author being in the 43rd Regiment, a unit trained to operate as "light troops" by Sir John Moore.
In addition, it provides a readable account of what life was like for soldiers of the British Army in Portugal and Spain and of the impact of war on civilian life. After a brief foray to the Baltic, a war against Denmark in which the British government's logic was evidently "Let us do evil, that good may [End Page 508] come," the author finds himself at Corunna in Spain in 1808. He gives a good account of the fighting at Benevente and the dreadful retreat out of Spain. Sent to Portugal, the author reaches Wellington's army just after Talavera. He then relates his experiences under General Crauford (a man "not inferior to any General of division in the forces") at the Coa, Masséna's invasion of Portugal, Fuentes d'Onoro, Ciudad Rodrigo and Badajoz. At this latter place the author was wounded in the leg and his peninsular career terminated.
There are certainly better narratives of the peninsular campaigns but this memoir reads well on the whole and, as a cheap and basic text, will no doubt serve for a few hours' informative entertainment.