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Paperback The Battle of Blair Mountain : The Story of America's Largest Labor Uprising Book

ISBN: 0465077730

ISBN13: 9780465077731

The Battle of Blair Mountain : The Story of America's Largest Labor Uprising

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Book Overview

In 1921, some 10,000 West Virginia coal miners-- outraged over years of brutality and exploitation-- picked up their Winchesters and marched against their tormentors, the powerful mine owners who ruled their corrupt state. For ten days the miners fought a pitched battle against an opposing legion of deputies, state police, and makeshift militia. Only the intervention of a Federal expeditionary force ended this undeclared war. In The Battle of Blair...

Customer Reviews

5 ratings

Fantastic

Detailed yet highly enjoyable account of WV coal field battles. A must for labor and union advocates.

Desperation Collides with Intransigence

The author, Robert Shogan, states "For years the union miners and the allies of the coal operators spilled each other's blood in the West Virginia hills until the miners were beaten into submission." He further notes "Yet the great uprising of the West Virginia miners remains only an afterthought in our historical consciousness, earning only a few sentences at the most even in chronicles of the labor movement and no attention at all in more general accounts of the American heritage." Following WWI, there was excess coal mining capacity. "Only by keeping the union out, allowing them to hold down wages, could the West Virginia's producers make up for their increased transportation costs" to industrial markets "and gain a proportionate share of the market." The miners and the United Mine Workers Union (UMW) wanted union recognition and fair wages thus putting them on a collision course with the operators. Mine operators used Baldwin-Felts detectives to intimidate union organizers. Miners joining the union were fired and thrown out of company houses. In Mingo County the mayor of Matewan, Police Chief Sid Hatfield and the sheriff managed to serve as a buffer for the miners of Mingo. When they attempted to stop Baldwin-Felts detectives from evicting fired union miners from company houses, a gun battle resulted at the Matewan depot in which two miners, seven detectives and the mayor were killed. The area and its people were now fully caught up in a ruthless conflict between the two old enemies. This work chronicles the events from the Matewan shoot-out through the final battle on Blair Mountain as the desperate miners were beaten into submission. Robert Shogan gives an excellent account of the often puzzling and conflicting events as the conflict progressed. There was no effective, and often biased, law enforcement, while politicians made the situation critical. The governors wanted intervention by the U.S. Army, while Presidents Wilson and later Harding equivocated. The miners wanted a fair hearing and their grievances addressed. Ultimately, the miners got a hearing before the US Senate, but there was no restraint on the mine owner's side. The result was the standoff continued leaving the miners few options for their struggle. The miners then began to assemble near the town of Marmet (close to Charlestown, WV) intending to storm the town of Logan, WV, the seat of strong union opposition lead by County Sheriff Don Chafin and his standing army. Meanwhile, Harry Bandholtz of the U.S. War Department, desperately tried to make peace but union leadership was powerless to stop the miner's march. The miners were now leaderless as the union district officials were now under indictment and left the state. To reach Logan in Logan County the miners had to cross Blair Mountain which they began crossing; and on August 27th they confronted Sheriff Logan's troops, bloodshed resulted. However, Friday night September 2, 1921 some 2100 federal troops arrived and b

Forgotten rebellion by UMW comes to life in these pages

As a citizen of these United States it is one of my great frustrations that young people do not know history. I have my own theories on why that is, but needless to say we all pay the price for this unfortunate state of affairs. That is especially clear to me when I read a book like "The Battle of Blair Mountain". In spite of all of the reading I do I will be the first to admit that I had never even heard about this epic struggle between the United Mine Workers union and the coal mine operators. It is the classic labor-management confrontation. Robert Shogan does a superb job of recreating the events that occurred in the mountains of rural West Virginia in the years 1920 and 1921. During those years the leadership of the United Mine Workers was committed to unionizing all of the non-union mines in the State of West Virginia. On the other hand the mine operators were just as determined to keep the unions out. And as Robert Shogan so eloquently points out the mine owners had friends, powerful friends, in places of authority at all levels of government in West Virginia. The result was a period of violence and unrest that culminated in "The Battle of Blair Mountain". A good many individuals had already lost their lives in the skirmishes that led up to "The Battle". Now nearly 10,000 coal miners were armed and poised to fight for the right to organize. On the other side were the forces of the State of West Virginia backed up by troops from the U.S. Army. But for the grace of God it could have been a blood bath. History buffs and students of labor-management relations are certain to enjoy "The Battle of Blair Mountain". It would also be a wonderful book for high school civics teachers to assign to their students. Our young people must become aware of the struggles and the sacrifices that were made by previous generations of Americans. This is a well-written book that deserves your time and attention. Very highly recommended!!

Finally, a book of the Cost Labor Paid

I grew up on the stories of the Mining Wars as my grandfather was a coal miner during this time. When I was in college I was shocked when I took a course on Labor History that did not even mention the Mining Wars or Railroad Wars that raged across the Mason/Dixon line. The Battle of Blair Mountain begins to remedy that for the Miners and their stories. This book, by Mr. Shogan, should be required reading in every history class that covers the labor movement. Too many folks do not understand the price that regular men and women paid in order for them to enjoy the weekend, overtime, and all sorts of rights now taken for granted. And too many of the folks in power have forgotten the rage that occured when the 'bosses' and 'captain's of industry' were taking more than their fair share through things such as usury and company stores - not to mention being in bed with the politicians of the day on local, state, and national levels. Shogan's book covers all of this. It is written in an easy to digest style. My father, who also knows these stories from his father and his uncles said it was one of the most accurate portrayals he had read. (Of course, to someone who knew these folks, there were misses - such as no mention of KKK involvement.) One thing that I find interesting is the note about so few bodies. It makes me think of a great uncle of mine who said about being a sniper: 'Well, we mostly shot at them to scare 'em off ... and it worked most of the time...' He wouldn't say anything about the ones who didn't get scared off. These Virginians - and Kentuckians - were sharpshooters and descendants of some of the oldest families in the U.S. of A. They believed they were doing what their forefathers did in defending their rights - and Mr. Shogan captures that essence very well. If you want to understand labor today, you need to read this book. And it might give you insight to the political process as well... There is a saying in the Hills 'Ballots down the River'... read this book and you will understand why elections aren't really trusted on the local level in some parts of the country.

The Fiercest of Labor Battles

In 1920 there was war in the West Virginia hills, a real war with real soldiers and real deaths. It was a battle between coal miners and coal company operators, and part of it was depicted in John Sayles's fine independent film _Matewan_. Robert Shogan, a political correspondent and historian, has told its story in _The Battle of Blair Mountain: The Story of America's Largest Labor Uprising_ (Westview). Shogan brings immediacy to the story by looking closely at details of the war and also at the larger social movements within the nation and the world. He produces a tense narrative that lets up only when the fate of the lost cause of the miners is decided in the final chapters. After the labor calm during the World War, labor tension was highest in West Virginia. Mining was inherently a back-breaking and dangerous job. The mine owners often cheated on their own work rules, deliberately fudging the loads of coal cars so that miners would get paid for less coal dug. The Stone Mountain Coal Company did everything it could to prevent unionization; it reminded the miners that they not only owed their jobs to the company but also the very houses in which their families lived, and that anyone who joined a union would lose it all. The Battle for Blair Mountain was sparked after company police came to Matewan to throw families out of their homes. Resentment eventually took form of a march the miners planned, and some dreamed of marching to free union organizers from the jails in which they were held and then bringing an end to martial law. Shogan writes that the uprising was "the largest armed uprising on American soil since the Civil War." With the federal military involved, the outcome was not surprising, although it was a real battle, with roaring machine guns and pincer tactics. With a thousand miners surrendering, many disappearing, and an unknown number killed, it was a staggering defeat for the miners, not just because they lost the battle, but because of the subsequent economic and political consequences. The operators tried, and in some cases succeeded, in bringing the charge against the rebels of treason, actually making war against the state. Not satisfied with a mere legal assault, the operators brought evangelist Billy Sunday in, who said of union organizers, "I'd rather be in hell with Cleopatra, John Wilkes Booth and Charles Guiteau, than to live on earth with such human lice." The revolution wasn't crushed as much as it simply expired. The problems of the union were worsened because there was abundant supply of coal from other sources. Federal intervention had represented insurmountable strength, but also it sapped the rebel's fury; one miner said, "We wouldn't revolt against the national gov'ment." Shogan has written a moderate, intriguing history of both sides in the conflict, but it is hard not to feel that the downtrodden miners were making a brave attempt at economic fairness. "Middle-class mythology to the contrary," Shogan wr
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