Coal Mine Wars
The  Battle of Blair Mountain, 1921                                             

The Battle of Blair Mountain, 1921

On  August 1, 1921, Sid Hatfield and Ed Chambers went to the McDowell County Court House to answer some of the many pending charges against them (having previously been acquitted of murder in the Matewan Massacre).  On the court house steps they were shot down by Baldwin-Felts operative and anti-union spy C.E. Lively and a colleague.  The shooting, claimed by the shooters as self-defense, is widely considered to have been premeditated at the behest of Tom Felts, head of the Baldwin-Felts Detective Agency and brother of Albert and Lee Felts, who were killed in the Matewan Massacre.  It certainly was considered Tom Felts’ revenge at the time.  Hundreds of miners came to Sid’s funeral and within a few days there were thousands of pro-union men on the march across the hills to Logan County to depose notorious anti-union Sheriff Don Chafin.  Up to 13,000 men were involved.

 

The sheriff set up his defenses on Blair Mountain.  Besides his usual mine guards and private detectives on the coal operators’ payroll deputies, hundreds or thousands of citizens, unhappy with the prospect of rule by angry mob, volunteered to help the forces of law and order.  The miners commandeered trains, shouldered their private small arms, and by August 29, full scale battle raged.  Government forces, or quasi-government forces, hired private planes to drop bombs, in so far as bombs from planes existed then, on the infuriated miners.

 

Federal troops restored peace.  Pro-union forces had no wish to fight with the federal government, to whom they looked for help.  They either surrendered or drifted away.  Nearly a thousand men were indicted, only a fraction of those fighting.  Some were imprisoned, but none for long.  UMWA leader William Blizzard was tried and acquitted.  The defense produced an unexploded bomb at his trial as evidence of government brutality.

 

Some histories say the Battle of Blair Mountain led directly to the labor laws of today, enacted during the Roosevelt administration.  Blair Mountain may have played a role in getting those laws passed, but indirectly, and along with numerous other labor union struggles.  For the  ten years after Blair Mountain coal companies ruled in southern West Virginia virtually unopposed.  Union membership dropped from more 50,000 to 10,000 in the years following the battle.  
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