On December 8th 1863, Colonel William D. Mann of the Seventh Michigan Cavalry was issued a patent. The patent was for an “improved mode of slinging accoutrements” that he claimed would lessen “the tendency of the soldier to inflammation of the bowels, piles, hernia and other diseases which result from wearing a tight belt around the waist…”
Mann's Infantry Accoutrements, 1864.
Mann’s invention was meant to correct a commonly noted problem: the difficulty that soldiers had carrying the required amount of ammunition and gear. Soldiers’ cartridges could weigh up to twelve pounds. The leather belts and pouches bearing this load pulled on the men. This caused fatigue, discomfort and sometimes, injury. In addition to ammunition, cavalry troopers often carried a saber and pistol attached to their waist belts. This added to the load that bounced and jostled them as they rode. Infantry soldiers carried a black painted cloth knapsack (We would call it a backpack today.) with unpadded leather straps that cut into their sides, restricted their arms and pressed on their chests. Many infantry soldiers threw their knapsacks away rather than march with them. An infantrymen going into battle was also required to carry sixty cartridges – forty in his leather cartridge box (slung over one shoulder) and twenty more in his pants pockets. This was an awkward system to say the least, and men lost time and cartridges just trying to load their rifles.
Figure 1 – Mann's Cavalry Accoutrements, 1864.
Mann developed simple modifications to the existing leather cartridge box and belts. He moved the box to the front of the waist and created a deeper tin magazine inside the box to hold more cartridges together. One group of officers testing Mann’s infantry equipment found that they were able to load and fire all forty rounds of ammunition four and a half minutes faster than with the old cartridge box. But the most important improvement of Mann’s system was the set of shoulder straps that, when attached to the waist belt, distributed the weight of the load evenly across the shoulders. A new infantry knapsack was also introduced. It clipped to the shoulder straps, freeing soldiers’ arms and chests.
Mann’s improvements were well received in the army. His invention was endorsed by many officers, including George Armstrong Custer. Custer praised the higher ammunition capacity of Mann’s gear. He felt that it might prevent cavalry troopers – armed with quick firing, breech-loading carbines – from running out of ammunition.
Based on the popularity of his invention, Mann decided to resign from the army in March of 1864 and devote his time to marketing his improved accoutrements. Unfortunately, the government did not place many orders, and with the end of the Civil War, Mann’s company went out of business.
Mann eventually moved to New York City, where he made his fortune publishing an unsavory tabloid magazine. The army would not adopt accoutrements incorporating shoulder straps until the early years of the twentieth century.