in Europe, War
in the Coalfields
World War I Needs State's Resources
War 1, which lasted from 1914 to 1918, changed West Virginia in many ways.
More than 60,000 West Virginians served in the armed forces. At least 200
were army nurses. The war took West Virginians out of the hills and sent
them into the world.
Virginia's industries were needed to win the war. In Wheeling, steel mills
worked night and day. Mustard gas and explosives were produced by the new
chemical industries in the Kanawha Valley.
was so important to winning the war that coal miners were not drafted.
During the war there was peace between the coal operators and the union.
Post-War Union Efforts Begin
the war ended, John L. Lewis, president of the UMWA, began to try to get
the miners in southern West Virginia to join the mineworkers' union. He
especially wanted to recruit miners in Mingo and Logan Counties. These two
counties had about one-third of the non-union miners in the state.
the war, the country did not need as much coal.
The price of coal dropped. Coal operators wanted to keep coal
miners' wages low so they could continue making a good profit. The coal
operators were ready to do anything to keep the union from organizing the
Matewan Is Center of Conflict
union effort in Mingo County was based in the town of Matewan. Sid
Hatfield was Matewan's 28year-old chief of police. Many sheriffs and
policemen were paid by the coal companies to work against the union.
Hatfield was different. He promised to protect the miners who joined the
May 19, 1920, Albert Felts and his brother Lee came to Matewan with a
group of Baldwin-Felts detectives. They spent the day evicting striking
miners and their families from homes owned by the Stone Mountain Coal
Company. The Baldwin-Felts men pilled the miners' furniture out on the
Albert and Lee Felts and their detectives returned to the train station,
they were met by Sid Hatfield and a group of miners armed with guns. When
Hatfield tried to arrest the Baldwin-Felts men, they tried to arrest him.
Shots were fired. Seven detectives--including both Felts brothers--plus
two miners, a bystander, and the Mayor of Matewan were killed. Because of
conflicting evidence, Hatfield and the other defendants were found not
guilty of causing the deaths.
Murder Leads to Armed Strike
The following year, Sid Hatfield and his friend Ed Chambers were
murdered as they walked up the steps of the McDowell County Courthouse at
"They shot Sid down like a dog," one miner said. At the
trial, no one was found guilty. Miners were enraged at the murder of Sid
Hatfield. Now they felt they had nothing to lose by joining the union and
going out on strike. Many of the miners felt it was time to take up guns
to get what they wanted. They wanted the pay and benefits that union
miners had won in the northern part of the state. Coal operators brought
in strikebreakers to keep the mines working. During the 28 months of the
strike, 3,000 striking miners and their families lived in tents along the
Federal troops were called in three times to keep order. In August
1921, thousands of armed miners gathered at Marmet to begin a march to
Logan. They were marching to support the striking miners in Logan and
Union organizers were afraid that the marchers would begin
shooting. They were afraid the march would do more harm than good. Union
leaders talked the miners into stopping the march. But then, on August 28,
state police tried to arrest some of the miners-not for marching but on
some other charge. Two miners were killed and three were wounded. After
that, the miners were determined to march to Logan.
The Battle of Blair Mountain
Don Chafin was the sheriff of Logan County. He vowed he would not
let the miners go through his county. Ian August 31, more than 1,200 state
police, armed guards, and others, many of them paid by the coal companies,
tried to stop the miners at Blair Mountain. The battle lasted for four
days and was fought over a 25-mile front. Over 2,000 U.S. troops were
brought in, as well as a chemical warfare unit and airplanes with crude
bombs. Faced with such a force, and unwilling to shoot U.S. soldiers, the
miners stopped fighting.
End of Chapter 13
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