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.


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Permission given by Michael M. Meador. Article published in The Goldenseal Book of the West Virginia Mine Wars

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