By Nancy Jennis Olds
Reenactor James Cragg, who took part in the Gettysburg Anniversary Committee’s 150th anniversary reenactment, has made a business of understanding the Civil War.
Cragg found himself searching for answers when he wondered why so many pieces of equipment were discarded on Civil War battlefields, especially at 1st Manassas. He wondered if it was because gear was inefficient or uncomfortable for soldiers.
Examining period gear led Cragg to create modern designs. One of his inventions is a chest harness that holds rifle magazines spread in a flat row around the chest.
This design was inspired by Capt. Anson Mills, who served in the U.S. Army from 1861 to 1897. He invented the woven cartridge belt shortly after the Civil War. With the Spanish-American War in 1898 there was increased the demand for Mills’ cartridge belt. Great Britain was the first foreign country to adopt it.
Cragg researched Mills’ belt, the inline profile of the cartridge belt and the Sharps carbine ammunition box and developed a new concept.
His design was adopted by U.S. Army Special Forces in Iraq and five years later by the U.S. Marine Corps and conventional U.S. Army forces. The harness has become the standard for ground combat use in Afghanistan. Many soldiers credit it with saving lives.
Two additional Cragg products originate from the Civil War. The grab and go bags were inspired by cavalry saddlebags, which enabled troopers to fight with gear quickly at hand. Today’s soldiers keep a modern saddlebag, the Mission Go Bag, in their transport vehicles for quick access.
Another Civil War cavalry item, the single point sling for carbines, made sense to Cragg for allowing exceptional control and skill in the saddle. The two-point under-weapon rifle sling, usually reserved for the muskets, was created for parades, not battles, he says.
Cragg gives credit to 19th-century innovators such as Anson Mills and Samuel Colt, whose factory produced revolvers with interchangeable parts and who completely revolutionized weapons. Another technology pioneer was Christopher Miner Spencer, inventor of the lever-action repeating Spencer rifle.
Read more at Civil War News