The Red Neck War of 1921
The Miners' March and The Battle of Blair Mountain
By: Michael M. Meador
The assassination of Matewan Massacre defendants Sid Hatfield and Ed
Chambers in August 1921 brought the West Virginia Mine Wars to a
frenzied crescendo. Outraged coal miners marched South from the
Kanawha Valley by the thousands, determined to end the nonunion
regime in Logan and Mingo. They were intercepted by Logan Sheriff
Don Chafin, an infamous figure in union history. Chafin's men met the
miners along a broad defensive front just inside the northern Logan
border, and The Battle of Blair Mountain began. It took the U.S. Army
to end it.
Michael Meador's articles on Blair Mountain were published in the
April-June 1981 GOLDENSEAL.
For six days the Charleston Gazette's headlines screamed: "Troops are
Ordered Here!," "Martial Law in Five Counties," "Troops Invade Boone
County," "Hard Battle on Two Fronts of Logan Line," A war was in progress
in West Virginia. As many as 15,000 men were involved, an unknown number
were killed or wounded, bombs were dropped, trains were stolen, stores
were plundered, a county was invaded and another was under siege. The
president had to send in federal troops, the United Mine Workers of
America was fighting for its life-and today, almost unbelievably,
this war is nearly forgotten. There is not even a roadside marker to
commemorate the mine war known variously as The Battle of Blair Mountain,
the Miners' March, or the Red Neck War.
The general causes of the conflict of 1921 developed over many years.
From the time the first shovelful of coal was removed in West Virginia,
the men who did the mining were exploited by those who owned the mineral.
Miners and their families often existed in crowded, isolated, and
substandard coal camps, at the mercy of the mine owners who owned
the camps as well. Miners who fought for better wages or living
conditions were fired from their jobs, thrown out of their homes,
and blackballed at other mines. One either accepted the system or moved on.
A ray of hope appeared for the miners in 1890 when the United Mine
Workers of America was organized by a merger of two earlier miners'
unions. By the turn of the century unionized mine operators in the
northern and midwestern fields were putting pressure on the UMWA to
organize the younger West Virginia industry, whose cheap coal was
undercutting established markets.
Threatened with the loss of their foothold in these older coalfields,
union officials set about trying to organize West Virginia. They
were met with resistance by mine' owners and the courts. Injunctions
were issued against the use of coercion or violence to force miners
to become union members. West Virginia mine owners hired special
guards and deputies (called "thugs" by the miners) for the purpose of
keeping the union out.
Permission given by Michael M. Meador. Article published in
The Goldenseal Book of the West Virginia Mine Wars