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Battle of Blair Mountain

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  • #3616
    Profile photo of Joe (G.W.N.S.)
    Joe (G.W.N.S.)
    Moderator

    The Battle of Blair Mountain was one of the largest civil uprisings in United States history and the largest armed rebellion since the American Civil War.

    For five days in late August and early September 1921, in Logan County, West Virginia, some 10,000 armed coal miners confronted 3,000 lawmen and strikebreakers, called the Logan Defenders, who were backed by coal mine operators during an attempt by the miners to unionize the southwestern West Virginia coalfields. The battle ended after approximately one million rounds were fired, and the United States Army intervened by presidential order.

    On May 19, 1920, 12 Baldwin-Felts agents arrived in Matewan, including Lee Felts, and promptly met up with Albert Felts who was already in the area. Albert and Lee were the brothers of Thomas Felts, the founder and director of the agency. Albert had already been in the area, and had tried to bribe Mayor Testerman with 500 dollars to place machine guns on roofs in the town, which Testerman refused. That afternoon, Albert and Lee along with eleven other men set out to the Stone Mountain Coal Company property. The first family they evicted was a woman and her children, whose husband was not home at the time. They forced them out at gunpoint, and threw their belongings in the road under a light but steady rain. The miners who saw it were furious, and sent word to town.

    As the agents walked to the train station to leave town, Sid Hatfield and a group of deputized miners confronted them and told the agents they were under arrest. Albert Felts replied that in fact, he had a warrant for Sid’s arrest. Testerman was alerted, and he ran out into the street after a miner shouted that Sid had been arrested. Hatfield backed into the store, and Testerman asked to see the warrant. After reviewing it, the mayor exclaimed, “This is a bogus warrant.” With these words, a gunfight erupted and Sid Hatfield shot Albert Felts. Mayor Testerman fell to the ground in the first volley, mortally wounded. In the end, 10 men were killed, including Albert and Lee Felts.

    This gunfight became known as the Matewan Massacre, and its symbolic significance was enormous for the miners. The seemingly invincible Baldwin-Felts had been beaten by the miners’ own hero, Sid Hatfield. Sid became an immediate legend and hero to the union miners, and became a symbol of hope that the oppression of coal operators and their hired guns could be overthrown. Throughout the summer and into the fall of 1920, the union gained strength in Mingo County, as did the resistance of the coal operators. Low-intensity warfare was waged up and down the Tug River. In late June, state police under the command of Captain Brockus raided the Lick Creek tent colony near Williamson, West Virginia. Miners were said to have fired on Brockus and Martin’s men from the colony, and in response the state police shot and arrested miners, ripped the canvas tents to shreds, and scattered the mining families’ belongings. Both sides were bolstering their arms, and Sid Hatfield continued to be a problem, especially when he converted Testerman’s jewelry store into a gun shop.

    On January 26, 1921, the trial of Sid Hatfield for killing Albert Felts began. This trial was in the national spotlight, and it brought much attention to the miners’ cause. Hatfield’s stature and mythical status grew as the trial proceeded. Sid Hatfield posed and talked to reporters, fanning the flames of his own stature and legend. All men were acquitted in the end, but overall the union was facing significant setbacks. Eighty percent of mines had reopened with the importation of replacements and the signing of yellow dog contracts by ex-strikers returning to mines. In mid-May 1921, union miners launched a full assault on nonunion mines. In a short time, the conflict had consumed the entire Tug River Valley. This “Three Days Battle” was finally ended by a flag of truce and the implementation of martial law. The enforcement of martial law was from the beginning decidedly against the striking miners. Miners in the scores and hundreds were arrested without habeas corpus and other basic legal rights. The smallest of infractions could mean imprisonment, while those on the other side of this ‘law and order’ were immune. The miners responded with guerrilla tactics and violence against this oppressive state-sanctioned system.

    In the midst of this tense situation, Sid Hatfield traveled to McDowell County on 1 August 1921 to stand trial for charges of dynamiting a coal tipple. Along with him traveled a good friend, Ed Chambers, and their two wives. As they walked up the courthouse stairs, unarmed and flanked by their wives, a group of Baldwin-Felts agents standing at the top of the stairs opened fire. Hatfield was killed instantly, while Chambers’ bullet-riddled body rolled to the bottom of the stairs. Over Sally Chambers’ protestation, one of the agents ran down the stairs and shot Chambers once more in the back of the head point blank. As Sid and Ed’s bodies were returned to Matewan, word of the slayings spread through the mountains. The miners believed that Hatfield was slain in cold blood, and it soon appeared the assassins would escape punishment.

    Hatfield’s death enraged the miners, and they began to pour out of the mountains to take arms. Miners along the Little Coal River were among the first to militarize, and began actions such as patrolling and guarding the area. Sheriff Don Chafin sent Logan County troopers to Little Coal River area, with the end result the troopers were apprehended, disarmed, and sent fleeing by the miners. On 7 August 1921, the leaders of the UMW District 17, which encompasses much of southern West Virginia, called a rally at the state capitol in Charleston. These leaders were Frank Keeney and Fred Mooney, who were veterans of previous mine conflicts in the region. Both were local, and were well read and articulate. Keeney and Mooney met with Governor Ephraim Morgan, and presented him with a petition of the miners’ demands. Morgan summarily rejected these, and the miners became even more restless. Talk began to spread of a march on Mingo to free the confined miners, end martial law, and organize the county. But directly in the way stood Blair Mountain, Logan County, and Sheriff Don Chafin.


    Sheriff’s deputies during the battle

    At a rally on August 7, Mary Harris “Mother” Jones called on the miners not to march into Logan and Mingo counties and set up the union by force. Accused by some of losing her nerve, she rightly feared a bloodbath in a battle between lightly armed union forces and the more heavily armed deputies from Logan County. Yet, feeling they had been lied to again by West Virginia’s Governor Morgan, armed men began gathering at Lens Creek Mountain, near Marmet in Kanawha County on August 20, where four days later up to 13,000 had gathered and began marching towards Logan County. Impatient to get to the fighting, miners near St. Albans, in West Virginia’s Kanawha County, commandeered a Chesapeake and Ohio freight train, renamed by the miners as the ‘Blue Steel Special’, to meet up with the advanced column of marchers at Danville in Boone County on their way to Bloody Mingo. During this time, Keeney and Mooney fled to Ohio, while the fiery leader Bill Blizzard assumed quasi-leadership of the miners. Meanwhile, the reviled and anti-union Sheriff of Logan County, Don Chafin (1887–1954), had begun to set up defenses on Blair Mountain. Chafin was supported financially by the Logan County Coal Operators Association, creating the nation’s largest private armed force of nearly 2,000.

    The first skirmishes occurred on the morning of August 25. The bulk of the miners were still 15 mi (24 km) away. The following day, President Warren Harding threatened to send in federal troops and Army Martin MB-1 bombers. After a long meeting in the town of Madison, the seat of Boone County, agreements were made convincing the miners to return home. However, the struggle was far from over. After spending days to assemble his private army, Chafin was not going to be denied his battle to end union attempts at organizing Logan County coal mines. Within hours of the Madison decision, reports came in that Sheriff Chafin’s men were deliberately shooting union sympathizers in the town of Sharples, West Virginia, just north of Blair Mountain—and that families had been caught in crossfire during the skirmishes. Infuriated, the miners turned back towards Blair Mountain, many traveling in other stolen and commandeered trains.


    Angry miners pass near Boone-Logan border on a hijacked train

    By August 29, battle was fully joined. Chafin’s men, though outnumbered, had the advantage of higher positions and better weaponry. Private planes were hired to drop homemade bombs on the miners. A combination of gas and explosive bombs left over from the fighting in World War I were dropped in several locations near the towns of Jeffery, Sharples and Blair. At least one did not explode and was recovered by the miners; it was used months later to great effect during treason and murder trials following the battle. On orders from the famous General Billy Mitchell, Army bombers from Maryland were also used for aerial surveillance, an early example of air power being used by the federal government against US citizens. One Martin bomber crashed on the return flight, killing the three members of the crew. Sporadic gun battles continued for a week, with the miners at one time nearly breaking through to the town of Logan and their target destinations, the non-unionized counties to the south, Logan and Mingo. Up to 30 deaths were reported by Chafin’s side and 50–100 on the union miners’ side, with hundreds more injured. By September 2, federal troops had arrived. Realizing he would lose a lot of good miners if the battle continued with the military, union leader Bill Blizzard passed the word for the miners to start heading home the following day. Miners fearing jail and confiscation of their guns found clever ways to hide rifles and hand guns in the woods before leaving Logan County. Collectors and researchers to this day are still finding weapons and ammunition embedded in old trees and in rock crevices. Thousands of spent and live cartridges have made it into private collections.


    A group of miners display one of the bombs dropped by Chafin’s airplanes.


    Popular Labor Relations Tool in the 1920’s, Machinegun Used to Fire on Miners at Blair Mountain.

    Following the battle, 985 miners were indicted for murder, conspiracy to commit murder, accessory to murder, and treason against the State of West Virginia. Though some were acquitted by sympathetic juries, many were also imprisoned for a number of years, though they were paroled in 1925. It would be Bill Blizzard’s trial where the unexploded bomb was used as evidence of the government and companies’ brutality, and ultimately resulted in his acquittal.


    Bunkers remain scattered through the woods of Blair Mountain today

    #3620
    Profile photo of JohnyMac
    JohnyMac
    Member

    If you walk the battle field you can find spent 45 ACP casing’s still. Apparently the Thompson Sub-machine gun was used with abandon on both sides. ;-)

    Check out this American Rifleman article
    http://www.americanrifleman.org/articles/guns-battle-blair-mountain

    Enjoy :yahoo:

    Freedom Through Self-Reliance
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    #3621
    Profile photo of Arthur Laurent
    M1-Guy
    Participant

    There is also the Bonus Army incident in 1932. WW1 vets wanted to collect early on monies owed for service in WW1. They marched on Washington, DC, set up a camp. Troops under MacArthur cleared them out, shots fired, vets killed. There are numerous instances of Gov’t troops bearing arms against US citizens. Makes one wonder if it could happen today? People I have spoken to think not. Hard to know. I spoke to a Captain (and friend) stationed at West Point and posed the question. They thought the regular Army would not fire on US citizens but that the State National Guards would be more likely!! That surprised me.

    What this person did say, and I would agree with, is, the more likely opposing force would initially be the DHS blue shirts. I have had a couple interactions with them and my impression was/is they are tacticool punks looking to get into a mix up.

    History tells us that no tyrannical/political/dictator type has been able to take power without the military. They have to have the military. This has always been one of the “tells” to me. However, in this country where the traditional military is being downsized and the DHS blue shirts are being up sized a variation on a theme could be occurring. Live your life, do good, train, protect your family and stay aware.

    You are never out of the fight.

    #3627
    Profile photo of Max Velocity
    Max
    Keymaster

    This is not Mac’s comment, it’s a glitch from our switch to subscription format.

    There’s a good movie called “Matewan” about the run up to it, that shows the problems they had and organizing that went on. It went straight to DVD and I think it may be on line.

    Johny’s right: I walked it in the 80’s and you could still see breastworks, remains of trenches in some places. It was quite a fight.

    Thanks for that: I did a paper on it as an undergrad and I need to dig some stuff out. Good Appalachian Redoubt stuff from that era.

    #4815
    Profile photo of Max Velocity
    Max
    Keymaster

    This is not Mac’s comment, it’s a glitch from our switch to subscription format.

    A good illustration, but don’t forget the Unions have been rich ground for Bolshevism for over a century. Let’s not be like the Spanish students who welcomed Francisco Franco’s army by mistake because they thought they were friendlies.

    Kent State is another example where Libertarians root for the Communists (I assume naïvely)- the students rioted for 3 days after being whipped up into violence by a member of the Weatherman Underground (same group as Bill Ayers). They spent 3 days smashing windows, lighting bonfires in the street, and throwing rocks and attacking people. The cops only fired tear gas for 3 days. The National Guard shot back at the spoiled rich kids when they heard gunshots and believed they were being shot at.

    The rioters themselves were the children of rich liberals/progressives. Their parents were just as Marxist as them, and they saw lots of other protests where others just like them did more or less the same things, and were praised to high Heaven for it.

    Know who we’re dealing with before shooting!

    #4817
    Profile photo of Joe (G.W.N.S.)
    Joe (G.W.N.S.)
    Moderator

    Know who we’re dealing with before shooting!

    How about knowing there is a legitimate threat before resorting to deadly force!

    Regardless of the political leanings? ;-)

    #27484
    Profile photo of Robert
    Robert
    Participant

    A good illustration, but don’t forget the Unions have been rich ground for Bolshevism for over a century.

    This is true. And it’s amazing to see the animosity that is created between “capital and labor” in these sorts of things.

    I had to travel to a “union camp” for some training on some specialized construction related stuff one time about 20 years ago. In short order I was asked basically are you a manager or a worker? My answer- doesn’t a manager work also? Dumb looks, suspicion. You could see one trying to think how to rephrase the question. I cut the game off and simply said “I’m in sales.” More dumb looks but not as hateful. I guess it sounded neutral. I think they gave up the questioning towards that end after that. Glancing at “literature” around the place, posters on the walls, etc. it had a covert “screw the man!” (the man being company owner(s), not “da man”) feel to everything.

    www.jrhenterprises.com
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    #27486
    Profile photo of Joe (G.W.N.S.)
    Joe (G.W.N.S.)
    Moderator

    This is true. And it’s amazing to see the animosity that is created between “capital and labor” in these sorts of things.

    I only wish the “back in the day” some of the Companies had more forethought, Company stores and ridiculous work conditions (among other things) made for fertile ground for Unions to come into being.

    My limited experience around Unions today suggest they take a lot of money and don’t provide much in return. I have no use for them.

    #27498
    Profile photo of RampantRaptor
    rampantraptor
    Participant

    Some business owners were cognizant of the correlation between poor work conditions and union growth. Henry Ford hated the unions, and he made sure his workers were well taken care of to deter them from unionizing. Ford was one of the last domestic automakers to unionize because of this.

    There was a coal company ready to strip-mine Blair Mountain and some historians and conservationists were seeking to have the battlefield protected to avoid it from being destroyed. I know it was tied up in court a few years ago but I don’t know how it’s been going since then. Would be ironic if the last battleground in the continental US was blasted out of existence for profit, convenient too to erase any history of citizens bearing arms to defend their rights.

    Take note that in some respects Baldwin-Felts provided what would now be considered private security or PMC services, if it happened once it can happen again.

    I’ve been doing reading on cooperatives and ESOPs. In my humble opinion perhaps the best balance of socialism and capitalism is more employee-owned businesses, if the employees are the owners and shareholders the unions become irrelevant. And it doesn’t necessitate an expansion of government power either, the Reds don’t have to come and collectivize all the businesses, the cooperatives and ESOPs compete alongside more traditional corporations and proprietorships in the free market. Seems to be the best compromise between free markets and worker’s rights to me.

    #RaqqaSummer2017
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    #27499
    Profile photo of Joe (G.W.N.S.)
    Joe (G.W.N.S.)
    Moderator

    I wouldn’t characterize voluntary cooperatives and ESOPs with socialism IMHO, note the word voluntary.

    …the last battleground…

    Not to worry, unfortunately there will be more in the future I suspect. Not that I want it destroyed.

    …best balance of socialism and capitalism…

    I personally don’t want anything to do with socialism in any form!

    …if it happened once it can happen again.

    I know this is something you bring up often, but I am not too concerned with who is potentially shooting at me whether it be terrorists, criminals, insurgents, PMC’s, or government.

    Ultimately who and why they sent them is more important.

    The defense is pretty much the same regardless, only varying in details.

    #27506
    Profile photo of RampantRaptor
    rampantraptor
    Participant

    I wouldn’t characterize voluntary cooperatives and ESOPs with socialism IMHO, note the word voluntary.

    By “socialism” here I’m referring to the social ownership and democratic control over the means of production, which is at the core of most forms of socialism, not state-owned corporations and the like. (Once the state is running all the businesses on behalf of “the people”, it basically devolves into state capitalism, which is the worst of both worlds, ask the Chinese.) When I was younger I was much more sympathetic to Marxist theory, as I learned more I came to the conclusion that the great flaw of most socialist and Marxist thought is that it requires coercion by the state, the only just way to have any form of communism would be something along the lines of voluntaryist communalism, though I’m not fond of sharing all of my property with other people. Communism and the various ideological strains of socialism are all related, but they’re also distinct.

    The socialists do have a point in that the workers should have more say in their labor, after all, we don’t tolerate dictatorship in government so ideally we shouldn’t have to tolerate dictatorship in labor. The great flaw of most forms of socialism, though, is that most of their solutions assume the state can be an honest and neutral arbitrator and demand an expansion of government power into labor. At best I could maybe share come common ground with the libertarian socialists because they’re anti-authoritarian, I find some of the concepts interesting even if I don’t see eye-to-eye, but that’s about it. Once you get into the more obscure fields of anarchist, socialist, and libertarian theory the lines begin to blur, you’re basically going all the way back to the common roots of anarchism, socialism, and libertarianism in the Enlightenment two centuries ago.

    I find ESOPs and cooperatives interesting because in my opinion they’re the best solution for addressing the concerns raised by the socialist movement without requiring an expansion of government power.

    I’m still solidly a free-market libertarian. I do enjoy reading about alternate theories on government and markets to challenge myself so I don’t stagnate intellectually. Plus it’s fun to know enough to roast the liberals and socialists at their own game when they whine that the government needs to do X, Y, and Z.

    But anyways.

    I know I use a lot of historical examples when I ramble on about stuff, reading about the history of other parts of the world where things went haywire is part of how I got woke to what’s going on here in the US, if you will, I hope I don’t repeat myself too often… :P

    #RaqqaSummer2017
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    #27507
    Profile photo of Joe (G.W.N.S.)
    Joe (G.W.N.S.)
    Moderator

    …which is at the core of most forms of socialism…

    In practice this is only paid lip service, there has never been a practical application of this social theory in any government.

    The socialists do have a point in that the workers should have more say in their labor, after all, we don’t tolerate dictatorship in government so ideally we shouldn’t have to tolerate dictatorship in labor.

    Workers already have the final say in their labor, they get to choose with whom they work. No one assigns them to either a career or workplace.

    I am well aware of both the history and the current socialist (in any of it’s variations) political nonsense.

    I consider it a invasive cancer that will continue to cause the deaths of millions as history has already shown!

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