Written by Robert Shogan
In 1921, some 10,000 West Virginia coal miners- outraged over years of brutality and 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 ended this undeclared war. In The Battle of Blair Mountain, Robert Shogan shows this long-neglected slice of American history to be a saga of the conflicting political, economic, and cultural forces that shaped the power structure of twentieth-century America.
From Publishers Weekly
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.
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