The West Virginia Mine War


The general and his staff arrived at the West Virginia capitol on Thursday morning. When the noon deadline came without news of whether the cease-fire had been observed—communications with the battle zone were virtually nonexistent—he set out on a personal inspection tour. Keeney and Mooney were nowhere to be found; they had been indicted for murder the day before by a grand jury in Mingo County and were hiding out from process servers. At Sharpies late that afternoon, however, Bandholtz encountered an even higher union official, Philip Murray from the national headquarters of the UMW in Washington, who told them that only a few miles farther down the road the fighting was continuing as furious as ever.


“These men will give up their arms when the federal troops come in to protect them,” Murray said. “But they won’t stop now just to be slaughtered by. Don Chafin and his army of assassins.”

Shortly after midnight Bandholtz wired the War Department that the Presidential proclamation was being ignored and asked that troops be sent immediately. Within hours the regiments held in readiness began boarding trains bound for West Virginia, and soon after thirteen DeHaviland airplanes armed with bombs, machine guns, and ammunition left Langley Field to support the federal troops.

The soldiers with their packs and trucks and mule trains arrived during the day Saturday. Charleston declared a holiday to welcome the “liberators.” The streets were hastily decked with flags and bunting; church ladies and Boy Scouts offered them coffee and sandwiches; Legionnaires strutted about, and excited citizens craned their necks to stare in awe as the arriving planes roared overhead. But the soldiers had little time for such amenities. They boarded boxcars and flats in the c&o freight yards and chuffed off by varying routes in the direction of Logan. An eyewitness account of their arrival on the fighting front was supplied by Boyden Sparks in a story he wrote for Leslie’s Weekly :

“…Capt. John J. Wilson’s command of 150 picked Regulars traveled by night to the scene of hostilities. The engine of the troop train pushed ahead of it three flat cars, two soldier lookouts riding at the very front. Forty-five minutes ahead of it, although Capt. Wilson was then unaware of it, there traveled a commandeered train loaded with miners going to the front.

“Two hours after the start from St. Albans, the troop train entered Madison, the unionized seat of Boone County. … The bugler sounded ‘assembly.’ ‘Packs and guns!’ shouted a sergeant. ‘Fall in.’

“Buckling on their heavy packs each rolled as neatly and smoothly as a stove pipe … the Regulars dropped to the cinder-covered right of way. … Outposts with machine guns were sent up and down the tracks. Sentries were stationed at 5 yard intervals 50 yards up the hillsides from the train. As the last of these took his post Blizzard appeared and accosted Capt. Wilson.

“‘William M. Blizzard, subdistrict president of the United Mine Workers’ he introduced himself. He was young, wiry, dark-eyed, cordial and convincing. … [He] wore a weather-beaten black-felt narrow-brimmed hat, pulled low over his eyes. … his suit appeared to have been slept in for a week.…

“‘Are you the general of the miners’ army?’ he was asked.

“‘What army?’ countered Blizzard with a smile. … ‘I guess the boys’ll listen to me, all right. I just told the captain here that if he’ll send a squad of his Regulars up the line with me I can get all of our fellows out of the hills by daylight.…’

“Then he spoke to a man standing nearby. This individual trotted away to crank up a flivver, and a few minutes later Blizzard was on his way up the line. What he did when he arrived can only be surmised, but when the Regulars moved on up to Sharpies at daybreak a few hours later, the miner fighters were coming out of the hills. Their guns had been hidden, probably far back in the black recesses of old coal mines. Their red badges had been snatched off. They were simply a swarm of stubbly-faced men getting out of the hills and back to their homes. … But it was Blizzard who started them out.”

Similar scenes occurred at other points along the battle line, and by Sunday evening the Red Neck Rebellion had passed into history. The combatants on both sides laid down their arms and turned homeward.

One by one the mines reopened, the refugees came out of hiding, and life in the Logan and Mingo coalfields resumed its normal pattern. The soldiers remained for a couple of weeks, but in time they, too, returned to their home bases.