There have been many such battles and revolutions in the world, which have been recorded in history forever. The Battle of Blair Mountain was the largest labor uprising in American history. The reason behind this armed labor revolution was the anger of the miners over the murder of their comrades. They were so boiled that they were revolting. The conflict in Logan County, West Virginia as part of the Coal Wars, was a series of labor disputes of the early 20th century. More than 100 people were killed in it, and many were arrested.
Some 10,000 armed coal miners faced 3,000 lawmakers and strikebreakers (known as Logan Defenders) over five days from late August to early September 1921. The battle ended after firing about one million rounds. Since the founding of the United Mine Workers Union in 1890, Mingo County, West Virginia and its surrounding coal mines only hired non-union workers, and strictly enforced employment contracts as grounds for immediate termination. Union membership included.
In 1920, the new president of UMW called for an end to three decades of resistance to unionization in the region. Both the miners who participated in the United Mine Workers coal strike of 1919 and the affected mine operators were under increased pressure to do so.
On May 19, 1920, a dozen Baldwin-Felt spies, including Lee Felts, arrived at Matewan and joined Lee’s brother Albert Felts. Albert and Lee were the brothers of Thomas Felts, the co-owner and director of the private detective agency. Albert was already in the area and tried to bribe Mayor Caballe Testerman of $500 to install machine guns on the city’s roofs but Testerman refused.
That afternoon Albert and Lee set out with 11 others to the Stone Mountain Coal Company property. The first family they took out was a woman and her children. The woman’s husband was not at home at that time. They pulled him out at gunpoint and threw his belongings on the road in the incessant rain. The miners who saw this were furious and sent information to the city.
As the agents went to the station to leave town, Police Chief Sid Hatfield and a group of deputed miners confront them and tell them they have been arrested. Albert Felts replied that he had a warrant for Hatfield’s arrest. The testerman became alert, and ran into the street when a miner shouted that Sid had been arrested. The testerman asked to see the warrant. After reviewing it, Mayor Testerman said, “It’s a fake warrant.” Meanwhile, Chief Hatfield shot Agent Albert Felts. Testerman and Albert and Lee Felts were among the ten people killed.
This shelling became known as the Matewan Massacre, and its symbolic significance was enormous to the miners. Chief Sid Hatfield became a hero to the union miners. In late June state police under the command of Captain Brockes raided the Lick Creek Tent Colony near Williamson. The miners are said to have opened fire on Brocas and Martin’s men in the colony, and in response the state police shot and arrested the miners.
According to the New York Times, Hatfield’s trial for the murder of Albert Felts began on January 26, 1921. All the men were acquitted at the end of the trial, but overall the union suffered significant setbacks. Eighty percent of the mines had reopened with imported replacements and ex-strikers who had signed contracts to return to work.
In mid-May 1921, Union miners attacked non-Union mines. Within no time the conflict had devastated the entire Tug River valley. This “three-day battle” eventually ended with the flagging of a ceasefire and the implementation of martial law. From the outset, the miners considered the enforcement of martial law to be one-sided. Hundreds of miners were arrested. The miners responded with guerrilla tactics and sabotage.
In the midst of this tense situation, Hatfield traveled to McDowell County on August 1, 1921, to stand trial on charges of mobilizing the coal wave. He was accompanied by a good friend, Ed Chambers, and his wives. As they climbed the stairs to the courthouse, unarmed and surrounded by their wives, a group of Baldwin-Felts agents standing at the top of the stairs opened fire. Hatfield was killed immediately.
Chambers was riddled with bullets and rolled to the bottom of the stairs. Despite Sally Chambers’ protests, one of the agents ran down the stairs and shot Chambers once more. The bodies of Hatfield and Chambers were returned to Matewan, and news of the murders spread through the mountains.
The miners were furious that Hatfield had been murdered and knowing that the killers would escape punishment, they took up arms and began to drive out of their mountain settlements. Miners were among the first to organize along the Little Coal River, and began tasks such as patrolling and guarding the area. Sheriff Don Chaffin sent Logan County troops to the Little Coal River area, where armed miners captured the soldiers, disarmed them, and sent them to flee.
On August 7, 1921, leaders of United Mine Workers (UMW) District 17, which includes much of southern West Virginia, called a rally at the State Capitol in Charleston. These leaders were Frank Keeney and Fred Mooney. Both were local, educated and outspoken. Keene and Mooney met with Governor Ephraim Morgan and presented him a petition demanding the miners. When Morgan summarily rejected the demands, the miners became more restless and spoke of Mingo calling for freeing the limited miners, ending martial law, and settling the county.
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