West Virginia coal wars
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Coal miners displaying a bomb that was dropped during the Battle of Blair Mountain in 1921
|Location||West Virginia, United States|
|Also known as||Mine wars|
The West Virginia coal wars (1912–21), also known as the mine wars, arose out of a dispute between coal companies and miners. The first workers strike, in West Virginia, was the Cabin Creek and Paint Creek strike of 1912-1913. With help from Mary "Mother" Jones, an important figure in unionizing the mine workers, the miners demanded better pay, better work conditions, the right to trade where they pleased (ending the practice of forcing miners to buy from company-owned stores), and recognition of the United Mine Workers (UMW). The mining companies, however, refused to meet the demands of the workers and instead hired Baldwin-Felts Agents, equipped with high-powered rifles, to guard the mines, but more important to be strikebreakers. After the Agents arrived, the miners either moved out or were evicted from the houses they had been renting from the coal companies, moving into coal camps that were being supported by the Union. Approximately 35,000 people lived in these coal camps. It wasn't until a month after the strike began that it became hostile with the arrival of the Baldwin-Felts Agents who provoked the miners. The union began supplying miners with weapons: 6 machine guns, 1,000 high-powered rifles, and 50,000 rounds of ammunition.
The climax of the wars occurred September 1, 1912, when around 6,000 unionized miners from across the Kanawha River crossed the river and declared their intent to kill the mine guards and destroy the company operations. Due to this threat the mining companies deployed additional armed guards and awaited the miners' attack. Consequently, the Governor proclaimed martial law to be in effect on September 2, 1912, seizing 1,872 high-powered rifles, 556 pistols, 6 machine guns, 225,000 rounds of ammunition, and 480 blackjacks, as well as large quantities of daggers, bayonets, and brass knuckles.
On May 19, 1920, a shootout in Matewan, West Virginia, between agents of the Baldwin-Felts and local miners, who later joined the United Mine Workers of America, sparked what became known as the Battle of Blair Mountain, the largest insurrection in the United States since the American Civil War.
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- United States Senate, Hearings before the Committee on Education and Labor (2 vols., 1921), available online