Technical advances during the civil war make advances for innovation today

Special Operations Technologies, Inc. modern chest rig on the mannequin with the in-line inspirations of the Sharps cartridge pouch and Union Army Capt. Anson Mills cartridge belt. Photographed by Deidre Brinlee, on staff with Special Operations Technologies, Inc.
Special Operations Technologies, Inc. modern chest rig on the mannequin with the in-line inspirations of the Sharps cartridge pouch and Union Army Capt. Anson Mills cartridge belt. Photographed by Deidre Brinlee, on staff with Special Operations Technologies, Inc.

Technical advances during the civil war make advances for innovation today

by: Nancy Jennis Olds | .
. | .
published: August 15, 2013

There is very little doubt that the fascination with Civil War history, the active participation of organizations and the tremendous amount of visitors to Civil War living history events and reenactments, has been growing in popularity as these signature battlefield and camp reenactments events commemorate their 150th anniversary.  However, one Civil War reenactor has decided to explore a unique journey in his pursuit to understand the American Civil War.  James Cragg arrived at last July’s GAC  (Gettysburg Anniversary Committee) 150th Anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg on a mission.

“Study the past if you would define the future”, wrote Confucius, a Chinese moral philosopher, teacher, politician and reformer who lived from 551 BC to 479 BC.  This ancient quote very clearly defines James “Jim” Cragg’s beliefs when he began to examine the technology of the military during the Civil War and found that this earlier technology had applications for today’s military, law enforcement and rescue organizations.  Cragg is the CEO and President of S.O. Tech, Special Operations Technologies, Inc.  His company designs and develops load bearing equipment, holsters, parachute harnesses, packs, cases, slings and vests for military special operations and conventional military, law enforcement and search and rescue programs around the world.

Cragg found himself searching for answers when he wondered why there were so many Civil War artifacts discarded on Civil War battlefields, especially right after the Battle of First Manassas.   Was this because some of the equipment was inefficient and uncomfortable for these soldiers?    Delving into the past to re-examine the equipment that did serve the soldiers well in the Civil War, Cragg has created new designs and modern military gear inspired by their predecessors.   One of Cragg’s inventions, a chest harness that contains rifle magazines spread in a flat row around the soldier’s chest, was inspired by Union Army Captain Anson Mills’ woven cartridge belt, an invention that made him wealthy later in life.   Mills invented this practical and efficient cartridge belt shortly after the Civil War.   The outbreak of the Spanish American War increased the demand for Mills’ cartridge belts and Great Britain was the first foreign nation to adopt Mills’ cartridge belts.  Jim Cragg researched Mills’ invention, the inline profile of the cartridge belt and the Civil War era Sharps carbine ammunition box and developed a more modern concept that has been adopted by U.S. Army Special Forces in Iraq and earned acceptance five years later by the U.S. Marine Corps and the conventional U.S. Army forces.  This harness has become the standard for ground combat use in Afghanistan.   Many soldiers have attributed the design of this product with saving lives.

Cragg is a war veteran; he maintains his rank as a major in the United States Army Reserve.   Many of his family were educated at West Point and served in the cavalry or medical units, including an ancestor, Captain Alonzo Millard, who served with Cavalry General Phil Sheridan in the 2nd Ohio Cavalry, Company H.   Jim Cragg’s chosen career with the military took an unexpected detour when he severely fractured his ankle in a parachuting accident.  Cragg found that he could better serve the military community and other organizations by founding his company, S.O. Tech, Inc. in 1997.    His company is a Service Disabled Veteran Owned Small Business (SDVOSB) located in Los Angeles, California.  Special Operations Technologies Inc. custom designs products to fit individual mission requirements.   All the gear is made in the USA, is of the finest quality and standards, and the company employs veterans of recent wars in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. 

Jim Cragg calls S.O. Tech ” A company with a history” and has collected his own archival library of military gear for his research with his staff.  Cragg holds eleven U.S. Patents, but acknowledges his inspiration from the innovators from the Civil War who crafted lifesaving gear and weapons to serve the soldiers.  Cragg believes that these inventions, “once learned should stay learned”, and advised that these inventions should be perpetuated in peacetime as well during crisis.  Two more of his gear products stemmed from the Civil War.    Cragg’s Grab and Go Bags are descended from the Civil War cavalrymen’s saddlebags, which enabled them to fight with their complete equipment quickly at their disposal.   Today’s U.S. soldiers keep their modern “saddlebags”, the Mission Go Bag, ready in their transport vehicles for quick access.  Another Civil War cavalry item, the single point sling for the cavalrymen’s carbines, made sense to Cragg for exceptional control and skill in accessing a soldier’s weapon in the saddle on the field.   The two-point under-weapon rifle sling, usually reserved for the muskets, was created for parades, not battles, added Cragg.

Cragg and his company owe some gratitude to some of the brilliance of 19th century innovators such as Captain Anson Mills, Samuel Colt, whose armament factory produced revolvers with interchangeable parts and completely revolutionized weapons in the Civil War and in the western frontiers, and Christopher Miner Spencer, the inventor of the 1860 Spencer rifle among many devices.  As Cragg points out, they all had to be adept in persuading a bureaucratic United States government to accept the new technology.  On August 18, 1863, as arranged by Gideon Welles, Secretary of the Navy, Spencer just strolled into the White House carrying one of his rifles with a supply of cartridges to meet with President Lincoln.  They discussed the merits of the Spencer rifle, a gift to the President, and President Lincoln invited Spencer to return the next day.  On the following day, Spencer met with President Lincoln, Lincoln’s son Robert, and a Navy Department officer, where they proceeded to the Mall by the Washington Monument and began shooting a target with the Spencer seven shot-repeating rifle.  Subsequent to that meeting, the Federal government eventually ordered 94,196 carbines, 13,171 rifles and about 58 million rounds of ammunition!

Cragg hopes that studying from the past will provide clues to designing better, more efficient gear for the military, law enforcement, and search and rescue organizations, wherever it can improve and save lives during the mission.