Cover image for The battle of Blair Mountain : the story of America's largest labor uprising
The battle of Blair Mountain : the story of America's largest labor uprising
Shogan, Robert.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Boulder, Colo. ; Oxford [England] : Westview Press, [2004]

Physical Description:
xiv, 271 pages ; 24 cm
Format :


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Material Type
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HD5325.M615 S49 2004 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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The Battle of Blair Mountain covers a profoundly significant but long-neglected slice of American history - the largest armed uprising on American soil since the Civil War. In 1921, some 10,000 West Virginia coal miners, outraged over years of brutality and lawless 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, spearheaded by a bomber squadron commanded by General Billy Mitchell, ended this undeclared civil war and forced the miners to throw down their arms. The significance of this episode reaches beyond the annals of labor history. Indeed, it is a saga of the conflicting political, economic and cultural forces that shaped the power structure of 20th century America.

Author Notes

Robert Shogan is currently Adjunct Professor of Government at the Center for Study of American Government at Johns Hopkins University.

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

In this concise, dramatic and authoritative account of the bloody 1921 encounter between the mine workers and mine owners of the West Virginia coalfields-the most tumultuous labor battle in American history-Shogan gives us a strikingly vivid post-WWI America both utterly foreign and oddly familiar. A former political reporter for Newsweek and the Los Angeles Times, Shogan is as much good feature writer as historian. Out of a confusing and often still-disputed series of events, he sets scenes and fills in necessary background with an unfussy narrative drive. Such well-known figures as the mercurial Mother Jones and the stalwart Samuel Gompers have their roles, as do a pair of presidents (Wilson and Harding), whose dithering made a difficult situation worse. Less familiar figures such as the organizer Sid Hatfield and the detective C.E. Lively are drawn with lifelike strokes. Police raids and deportations, bombs sent through the mail and a general air of panic and "red" hysteria build as miners and owners move inexorably toward their ultimate confrontation. The tragic outcome of the battle between a group of mountain people and the full power of the emerging superstate-with WWI hero (and later state senator) Billy Mitchell's biplanes ready, 15 years before Guernica, to bomb civilians-is inevitable, but it is Shogan's triumph here to make the reader feel it anew. A minor quibble is the otherwise fine bibliography's failure to mention John Sayles's Matewan, surely an important (and reasonably accurate) version of the events in question. 10 b&w photos. Agent, Carl Brandt. (June) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

The violent nationwide Great Railroad Strike of 1877 involved more workers, but the Battle of Blair Mountain, WV, in August 1921 was the largest armed labor uprising in the United States. Nearly 10,000 white and black coal miners of the United Mine Workers of America attacked 3000 pro-coal company men. The conflict ended when miners ultimately decided not to fight the U.S. Army. Longtime political journalist Shogan (Riddle of Power) details the grievances miners had against mine operators determined to destroy the union and maintain subsistence wages. Though Lon Savage's Thunder in the Mountains and other good narratives of Blair Mountain exist, Shogan argues further that organized labor learned from the event that "working class gains can be made only by playing by middle-class rules that demand respect for property and profit"-a lesson that still holds in today's era of globalization and outsourcing. Riveting and well researched, the book should have wide appeal to lay readers. Recommended mainly for public libraries.-Charles L. Lumpkins, Pennsylvania State Univ., State Coll. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Author's Notep. IX
Acknowledgmentsp. XIII
1 Matewan Stationp. 1
2 "What Does Labor Want?"p. 27
3 Seeing Redp. 45
4 "A Powder Keg Ready to Blow"p. 65
5 "It's Good to Have Friends"p. 87
6 "War, Insurrection and Riot"p. 109
7 Mr. Hatfield Goes to Washingtonp. 135
8 "Even the Heavens Weep"p. 153
9 "I Come Creeping"p. 183
10 Requiem for a Rebellionp. 211
Reference Notesp. 229
Bibliographyp. 249
Indexp. 255