Sunday, May 11, 2014

The most important battle on American soil you probably never heard of.

A hastily-raised militia of some 10,000 men marches from northern West Virginia to southern West Virginia with the objective of seizing the coal mines there. A defending force of some 3,000 men is cobbled together and takes a defensive position on a mountain in front of the objective. For several days, the attacking force tries to find a way around the defenders and sustains 50-100 men killed. The defenders lose some 30 men. The commander of the attacking force calls off the attack.  The militia disperses and the men go back to their homes.

Sounds like a Civil War battle, right? Let me provide some additional details. The defenders set up machine guns to cover their defensive position and use aircraft to monitor the attackers. They even drop a few bombs on the attacking force as it approaches.

So now you're thinking there were no aircraft or machine guns during the Civil War. You're right. This battle occurred in 1921.  Hey, wait, you say.  There were no wars on American territory in 1921.  You're right again. There was no declared war. This event is known as the Battle of Blair Mountain.

It started during the movement to unionize the coal mines of West Virginia. The mines in the northern counties of West Virginia were unionized. The miners here were better paid and had better working conditions than the ones in the non-union mines of the southern part of the state. The mine operators in the southern counties were determined to keep their mines non-union.

The events leading up to this battle included several instances of deadly violence between mining company "detectives", essentially hired thugs, and law enforcement officials of county governments sympathetic to the union. The last straw may have been when "detectives" murdered two unarmed union-supporting law officers while they were headed to a legal proceeding.

Miners assembled, gathering their guns, and marched south. The mine operators put together a force of lawmen and company detectives, determined to stop the miners. They set up positions on Blair Mountain.

The miners were never able to get past Blair Mountain. The President decided things had gotten out of hand and sent in the army to restore order. It appeared the mine operators had won the battle.

They may have lost the war, however. The battle brought national attention to the plight of the coal miners in non-unionized areas. Public opinion, which tended to be against unions, began to change. Eleven years later, the election of FDR gave unions allies in the Federal government. Conditions for miners and workers in general improved.

What does this have to do with writing? Probably nothing, but I think it's an important event in American history that few people know about.


  1. Very interesting piece, Chuck. You're right, it's important to remember these events. Men fought and died for the rights of others. In their own way, historic moments like this are just as important as the more widely read ones we learn about in our schools.

    1. I'm glad you feel the same way. This kind of event is just as important as more known ones.

  2. Interesting. I love when I learn something new.

  3. I'm happy to have been able to share something with you.

  4. To me, it has everything to do with writing. It's an interesting topic, and therefore worth writing about. What's more, most everything we learn on any subject is via the written word. And last, with your talent, you can circle a story around the subject and give it more depth. Great post!

  5. Thanks, Debi. I appreciate your confidence in my talent. You're right, there are historical stories everywhere that are important but few people know about.

  6. As a person that loves history, any kind of history, i found this piece of our history very disturbing. It always amazes me that in our great country we still have problems with various employment conditions... and i know our miners have suffered a great deal throughout our history. It shouldn't be, because they risk their lives every day to provide us with the coal we burn daily. People's lives matter and we should always be doing everything possible to protect them.

  7. Well said, Annamaria. I cant' think of anything else to add.