What If I told you that at one point in Americas history, up to 13,000 people took up arms and fought nearly 3500 police, government officials, government-supported corporations, and military personnel? And what if I told you that more than a million rounds were exchanged between Americans in that battle over a 3-day period? ‘And that government used Aircraft to bomb people on the ground? You’d say that it was a Civil War battle, and I’d remind you there were no bomber aircraft in the Civil War. And then what if I told you it was in 1921?
So What Went Down, You Ask???
Well, this episode starts a few years before the actual battle… Imagine you’re a Coal Miner. You’re poor as dirt, and you work for a mining company. You crawl into a mine shaft every day and you’re paid by how much coal you bring out of the deep, dark, and extremely dangerous mines that people fail to come out alive from every week. That’s rough right? But then imagine if you live in a house owned by that same coal company. And your kids go to a school owned by that same company?
Well, you’d just leave right? Wrong! Because that company also pays you in “Scrip”. Which is basically money/credit created by that same mining company. And unfortunately, you can only buy stuff… that the mining company sells with that useless scrip. From food, to clothing, to fuel, to… whatever. And then to top it all off, your pay is determined by how much coal you bring out. But you don’t have access to the scales. Inevitably, the weighman (the guy that weighs your coal), will tell you that you brought out less coal than you actually did. With every day, you go deeper into debt with the company. You may not be a “Slave”, but you ‘aint free! You can’t leave because because you don’t earn “money,” and you owe to the company.
You would want to be a part of a Union (when unions were necessary) right? You’d ask for some safety changes, access to scales, and you’d want to be paid in ACTUAL MONEY [smackeroos; bucks; dinero]; US Dollars! Well, I wasn’t there, but I’m absolutely sure that the mining company would not like their people all unionized… because it’ll cost the company money, leverage, and power. So instead of starving for the company, the miners went on SSTRIIKKEEE. But, then the mining company called in some “strikebreakers” from the Baldwin-Felts Detective Agency. Many of these “Detectives” were ex-soldiers, mercenaries, fighters, and other assorted murderers. What did they do? They threatened people, beat people, stole from everyone, and murdered people. In order to keep Miners in check, they kicked families out of company homes into tents, and at one point, they ran a train, dubbed the “Death Special”, through a tent city shooting machine guns into tents, and indiscriminately killing people.
The miners managed to organize a little bit in 1920 and started to join the United Mine Workers Of America (UMWA). And the Stone Mountain Coal Company was pissed! They sent in Baldwin-Felts (BFs) again. This time they entered a town called Matewan, West Virginia. After a minor (not Miner) confrontation, 14 BFs thugs got into a gunfight with Sheriff Sid Hatfield. In the firefight, seven BFs guys, two miners, and THE MAYOR of Matewan were killed. Hatfield and his men were found not-guilty in court. Four months later, Baldwin-Felts personnel approached Sheriff Hatfield, his partner, and their two wives… and opened fire, murdering both men on the Logan Co Courthouse steps while they were unarmed. Hatfield had become a local hero, and the Miners throughout the region became enraged. Especially considering that no Baldwin Felts guys were going to be charged.
The Battle Itself
After Hatfield was MURDERED by the coal companies (yes, “they” were responsible), the miners went ballistic. They grabbed guns and planned on marching to the adjacent county with the hope of allowing the other Miners to strike, which would close down their mines, and allow them leverage join the Union. The Governor of West Virginia was taking money from the coal companies, so he was against the miners. The Federal Govt was getting tax monies, and being lobbied by coal companies, so they were against the miners. The Sheriff of the adjacent county, Don Chafin, was also taking money from the coal company and moved in to stop the miners from marching into his county at the coal company’s behest. He sent Logan County Troopers in to disarm the miners, but the Troopers were quickly disarmed and sent a-runnin for their lives. Chafin was piiissssed! He gathered up nearly 3000 law enforcement, militia members (“State Defense Force” before the National Guard was established) and surprise surprise… Baldwin-Felts killers, and set up a defensive line right on the ridge-line of Blair Mountain.
But… Fighting was nearly avoided. A third Sheriff started talking the Miners down… until word spread that Chafin’s forces were killing Miner’s and gunning down their families. Chafin wanted to decimate any future strikes. So the Miners marched. Some seized a coal company train so they didn’t actually march the entire way… but all the same; the Miners headed up the mountain. The battle erupted on 29 August of 1921. People shot at each other from behind trees and rocks. TNT/Dynamite was thrown like grenades. It was an actual battle. More than a million rounds would be fired in anger. The “front line” stretched over 10 miles. This WAS a battle. To this day, you can go to what remains of the battlefield and find bullet casings and leftover artifacts from the battle.
Normally, A commander would seize key terrain, and maneuver his forces in order to avoid having to fight uphill, but the Miners were late. Chafin’s forces held the high-ground and were able to shoot down upon the Miners. Chafin would even use private aircraft (some paid for by Baldwin-Felts) to drop bombs and leftover WW1 chemical weapons on AMERICANS. An example of which, the Miners collected and put on display. No one seems to know for sure, but some “AVERAGE” figures are that about 75 Miners and 25 of Chafin’s forces were killed in the battle.
But in the fight, the Miners did respectably well. The standard Defenders Advantage is a 1-to-4 ratio. If the numbers of deaths are in any way accurate; the Miners were pretty effective. It should take four assaulters to dislodge one defender. The Miners were attempting to move through the positions of Chafin’s forces and their losses were within ratio… This is significant because they were not trained, exercised, nor prepared for a protracted battle. Additionally, they were not prepared for, even rudimentary, aerial bombardment. In a war of attrition, there is no doubt, the Miners would have eventually won.
President Harding himself, sent over 2000 soldiers, and some military bomber aircraft to stop the miners if need be. He put the entire State of West Virginia under Martial Law! And on 1-2 September, the military arrived. Miners did not want to fight the Soldiers, and believed that the US military would take the Miner’s side against the local coal companies. So Many of the Miners came down the mountain and turned in their weapons, ammo, and explosives to the Military… They started going home, only to find that some of Chafin’s men and Baldwin-Felts personnel were still murdering Miners and their families, now they had less means to defend themselves. Small skirmishes occurred for months as the Miners failed to produce as much coal as they had prior to the battle. The coal companies lost revenue, and eventually they had to make some concessions to their now coordinating workforce.
In The End
Although, it would appear that the mining companies won the battle (maybe), they lost the war. Nearly 900 Miners would be taken to court, but sympathetic juries threw most of the charges out, and found most Minors innocent. Some would serve minuscule jail time… but the juice was worth the squeeze. The Miners would earn a measure of respect from the coal companies. They would earn more fair wages. They’d get basic safety concessions, and some basic benefits. They would also, most importantly, get paid in US Dollars…
What these Miners did was bring their plight to the forefront of society. Even the New York Times (when they were more professional), covered the incident. The US Congress would hold hearings, and the nation was watching.
Now why don’t you think you’ve ever heard this story about 13,000 Americans in armed conflict with crony-government?!?! Obviously, like I noted in my look at the Battle Of Athens, Tennessee (whom you also may not have heard about), government does NOT want you to hear about certain events in history because they represent ideas that government does NOT want to confront. This was the largest labor fight in American history. And the largest armed civil conflict since the Civil War. Some of the actions taken by government, and those whom collude with government should be a lesson to those who choose to believe government is infallible. As an example, would you find it unthinkable that in some future event, government/military might get to the point that a drone-strike might be used to attack Americans on the ground? Never Say Never!