August 24, 1921: Miners March to Protest Martial Law in Mingo County

Aug 24, 2017

Miners line up for strike relief in Matewan, about 1921.
Credit e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia / WV State Archives (WVSA), Coal Life Collection

On August 24, 1921, a group of armed miners started out on a long march southeast from Marmet near Charleston.

Their goal was to end the governor’s order of martial law in Mingo County and to wipe out the anti-union mine guard and deputy sheriff systems in Logan and Mingo counties.

While exact numbers will never be known, it’s believed more than 15,000 miners joined the march. World War I veterans among the miners helped organize the marchers along military lines. They used sentries, patrols, codes, and passwords, and had their own doctors, nurses, and medical and sanitary facilities, commissaries, and food tents.

The marchers were intercepted by more than 5,000 mine guards, deputy sheriffs, and state police near Logan at Blair Mountain. By September 1, the miners had captured half the 25-mile mountain ridge. President Warren Harding, however, ordered federal troops and a bombing squadron into the state. Unwilling to resist U.S. soldiers, the miners laid down their guns.

The march was probably the largest armed uprising in American labor history and the biggest armed insurrection in the United States since the Civil War.