Charles Craft – Sniper of the “Big Red One”

Published: 13 May 2024

By Michael Santoro
Special to the Doughboy Foundation website

Santoro 1 framed

This is the uniform group of Charles Elwood Craft, an American sniper of the 1st Division who was maimed for life during the Aisne-Marne Offensive. The group includes his jacket, overseas cap, breeches, dog tag, army discharge, and a myriad of other original personal documents, newspaper clippings, and letters.

Craft was born in Memphis, Tennessee, on November 11th, 1890 to James Edward Craft & Mary Lena Crowly. At the time of being drafted, Craft was working as a sign-painter for a traveling circus that performed across all 48 states. Craft was an artist all his life, working as a sign painter until his death.

At the age of 25, Craft enlisted in the Regular Army on July 25th, 1917. Craft was made part of the 3rd Company Training Battalion for the 28th Infantry, which provided one of the first waves of replacements for the division. His U.S. Army serial number was 58315. During training, Craft immediately distinguished himself in his marksmanship, being made a sharpshooter. Craft left the port of Hoboken, NJ aboard the USS Mount Vernon, arriving overseas on October 31st, 1917. Upon arrival, he was assigned to Company M of the 28th Infantry Regiment, before being transferred to Company K, 28th Infantry on December 15th, 1917. Company K was the unit he fought & was wounded with.

Having shown proficiency with the 1903 Springfield Rifle, Craft was given a green armband and worked as a company sniper for the 28th Infantry Regiment. He would have been issued a 1903 Springfield Rifle with a 1912 Warner-Swasey Telescopic Musket Sight, the standard-issued scope of the U.S. Army.

1912 Warner-Swasey Telescopic Musket Sight (Author’s Collection)

Craft saw heavy combat in the Ansauville Defensive Sector from March 4th-April 3rd, 1918, the Battle of Cantigny from April 25th-June 8th & June 14th-July 8th, 1918, the Battle of Montdidier-Noyon from June 9-13th, 1918, and the first day of the Aisne-Marne Offensive, July 18th, 1918. On July 18th, 1918, during the Battle of Soissons (A-M), Craft was severely wounded by a machine gun bullet, shattering his right foot & maiming him for life. He was transferred to a base hospital where he saw treatment for several months.

Men of the 26th Infantry Regiment in Soissons, July 1918.

After being treated for four months, Craft was returned to the United States on November 14th, 1918. He was allowed a short furlough to visit his family before returning to continue treatment at Camp Pike. Craft was finally discharged from the Army on January 31st, 1919. As a result of his wound, Craft would have a limp for the rest of his life, requiring a cane to get around. Following his return to the United States, Craft married Nellie Bly Mitchell on February 26th, 1919, in Arkansas. They had one child, Lena, named for his mother. In 1932, Craft was awarded the Purple Heart for his wound, 14 years later. Craft worked for several decades as a sign painter before passing away on November 16th, 1961.

Craft’s Headstone Application, which provides integral information about his service.

As Craft did not accompany the 1st Division with the Army of Occupation in Germany, he did not wear a 1st Division Shoulder-Sleeve-Insignia. He wore the green armband of the Sharpshooter/Scout, with two individually applied overseas chevrons, one wound chevron, and one honorable discharge chevron, worn upside-down. This is the same uniform he is seen wearing in the attached photograph, & the same uniform he wore while sniping in France.

Charles Elwood Craft (right) and his brother, Earl Milton Craft (left).

Craft’s overseas cap is sewn shut at the top, with “You Damn Fool, this isn’t your cap!” written on the interior sweatband.

Charles Craft was a pioneer of American sharpshooting who bled & was maimed for his country during an era where every of-age American male was expected to do so without question. Although he survived the war, it followed him for the rest of his life, bringing up those memories whenever he took a step.

Michael R. Santoro is a history researcher, preservationist, and World War I Antiquarian. He has been collecting World War I militaria for some seven years. He finished both bachelor’s and master’s degrees at the University at Buffalo, New York, in Environmental Design & Architecture/Historic Preservation, respectively. He now runs his own historic research business, Santoro Military Researchers, providing quality, quick, and affordable military research.

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