AP Was There: Covering the Battle for Blair Mountain in 1921

LOGAN, W.Va. — When a mine industry conflict a hundred years ago sparked the largest armed uprising in the United States since the Civil War, The Associated Press was there, sending multiple bulletins each day to update the nation’s newspapers on each development.

Thousands of coal miners had marched to unionize, fed up with poor wages and living conditions and angered by killings of their supporters. Defying martial law, they gathered weapons and were met on Blair Mountain by forces mustered by the anti-union Logan County sheriff.

At least 16 men died in the 12-day battle, which included planes dropping bombs on the miners’ camps. They finally surrendered to federal troops sent by President Warren G. Harding on Sept. 3, 1921.

Another dozen years would pass before workers were guaranteed the right to collectively bargain in 1933 as part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal. West Virginia coal miners then joined the United Mine Workers by the thousands.

As descendants of those miners march this Labor Day weekend to remember the sacrifices that enabled the working conditions most Americans now enjoy, the AP is retransmitting a selection of the bulletins that moved that pivotal day:

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400 MINERS GIVE UP TO FEDERAL TROOPS; OTHERS DISARMED

Fighting Resumed with Machine Gun Along Crooked Creek;

Bombs Dropped by Airplanes in Mine War Do No Damage;

Belligerent Marchers Reported to Be Disposed to Go Home;

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BULLETIN

WASHINGTON, D.C., Sept. 3 — A message received at the war department late today from Brig. Gen. H.H. Bandholtz in West Virginia, said:

“About 400 insurgents surrendered this afternoon at Sharples and Madison, turning in about eighty firearms. They were immediately sent out of the disturbed area by train.”

BULLETIN

CHARLESTON, W.Va., Sept. 3 — Federal troops operating out of Madison in the territory occupied by armed bands had their first encounter today near Sharples, when they met and disarmed some of the men holding a locomotive on the Little Coal river branch of the Chesapeake & Ohio.

BULLETIN

LOGAN, W.Va., Sept. 3 — Boyden R. Sparkes, correspondent of the New York Tribune, was shot in the head and leg while making his way with other newspaper correspondents over the mountains from Blair to Logan today, according to Dr. H.D. Hatfield, former governor of West Virginia, who dressed his wounds. Dr. Hatfield said the wounds were not serious. None of the others was injured. Firing was resumed at noon from a Cripple Creek machine gun.

Kentucky Firing is Resumed

WILLIAMSON, W.Va., Sept. 3 — Firing from the Kentucky hills along Tug river into West Virginia mining villages was resumed today shortly after the withdrawal of the guard which Maj. Tom Davis, Gov. Morgan’s personal representative in Mingo county, had maintained during the night. No one was hurt, Maj. Davis said.

Firing across the Tug river almost reached the proportions of civil war earlier in the summer and military rule was established, but there has been no disturbance for several weeks until today.

With the withdrawal of the state police from Mingo county to re-enforce the “defense army” in Logan, Maj. Davis mustered into the state service a company of the new national guard. These men were reinforced by some 500 volunteers, who have been held in readiness here for possible eventualities in the coal-strike zone along Tug river.

Bombs Drop About Miners

MADISON, W.Va., Sept. 3 — Sub district President Blizzard of the United Mine Workers, who visited the firing line to inform the embattled miners federal troops had arrived, says five airplanes sent up from Logan county dropped bombs manufactured of gaspipe and high explosives over the miners’ land, but that no one was injured. One of the bombs, he reports, fell between two women who were standing in a yard, but it failed to explode.

Armed Bands Re-Enforced

MADISON, W.Va., Sept. 3 — That the miners did not expect to give up the fight until the federal troops were actually on the fighting ground was evidenced here early today, when a string of flat cars alleged to have been commandeered by armed bands and carrying recruits and supplies to the front preceded the first troop train up to Sharples.

Report W.Va. Bands Quitting

CHARLESTON, W.Va., Sept. 3 — With the arrival of all the United States troops ordered into the disturbed counties of the southwestern part of the state at the positions designated by Brig. Gen. H.H. Bandholtz, in command of the federal soldiers, there were reports today that there was a movement toward home in progress on the part of the belligerent miners’ partisans.

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The AP Corporate Archives contributed to this report.

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