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Couldn't find anything on SNOPES, but true or not, maybe some good lessons here>>
The Battle of Athens
2 AUGUST 1946
On 2 August 1946, some Americans, brutalized by their county government, used armed force to overturn it. These Americans wanted honest, open elections. For years they had asked for state or Federal election monitors to prevent vote fraud -- forged ballots, secret ballot counts, and intimidation by armed sheriff's deputies -- by the local political boss. They got no help.
These Americans' absolute refusal to knuckle-under had been hardened by service in World War II. Having fought to free other countries from murderous regimes, they rejected vicious abuse by their county government. These Americans had a choice. Their state's Constitution - Article 1, Section 26 - recorded their right to keep and bear arms for the common defense. Few "gun control" laws had been enacted.
II. The Setting
These Americans were Tennesseeans of McMinn County, located between Chattanooga and Knoxville, in Eastern Tennessee. The two main towns were Athens and Etowah.
McMinn Countians had long been independent political thinkers. They also had long:
accepted bribe-taking by politicians and/or the Sheriff to overlook illicit whiskey-making and gambling;
financed the sheriff's department from fines - usually for speeding or public drunkenness - which promoted false arrests;
put up with voting fraud by both Democrats and Republicans.
Tennessee State law barred voting fraud:
ballot boxes had to be shown to be empty before voting;
poll-watchers had to be allowed;
armed law enforcement officers were barred from polling places;
ballots had to be counted where any voter could watch.
III. The Circumstances
The Great Depression had ravaged McMinn County. Drought broke many farmers; workforces shrank. The wealthy Cantrell family, of Etowah, backed Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the 1932 election, hoping New Deal programs would revive the local economy and help Democrats to replace Republicans in the county government. So it proved.
Paul Cantrell was elected Sheriff in the 1936, 1938, and 1940 elections, but by slim margins. The Sheriff was the key County official. Cantrell was elected to the State Senate in 1942 and 1944; his chief deputy, Pat Mansfield, was elected sheriff. In 1946, Paul Cantrell again sought the Sheriff's office.
IV. World War II Ends; Paul Cantrell's Troubles Begin
At end-1945, some 3,000 battle-hardened veterans returned to McMinn County. Sheriff Mansfield's deputies had brutalized many in McMinn County; the GIs held Cantrell politically responsible for Mansfield's doings. Early in 1946, some newly-returned ex-GIs decided:
to challenge Cantrell politically;
to offer an all ex-GI, non-partisan ticket;
to promise a fraud-free election.
In ads and speeches the GI candidates promised:
an honest ballot count;
reform of county government.
At a rally, a GI speaker said, "'The principals that we fought for in this past war do not exist in McMinn County. We fought for democracy because we believe in democracy but not the form we live under in this county.'" (Daily Post-Athenian, 17 June 1946, p. 1).
At end-July 1946, 159 McMinn County GIs petitioned the FBI to send election monitors. There was no response. The Department of Justice had not responded to McMinn Countians' complaints of election fraud in 1940, 1942, and 1944.
V. From Ballots to Bullets
The election was held on 1 August. To intimidate voters, Mansfield brought in some 200 armed "deputies". GI poll-watchers were beaten almost at once. At about 3 p.m., Tom Gillespie, an African-American voter, was told by a Sheriff's deputy, "'******, you can't vote here today!!'". Despite being beaten, Gillespie persisted; the enraged deputy shot him. The gunshot drew a crowd. Rumors spread that Gillespie had been "shot in the back"; he later recovered. (C. Stephen Byrum, The Battle of Athens; Paidia Productions, Chattanooga TN, 1987; pp. 155-57).
Other deputies detained ex-GI poll-watchers in a polling place, as that made the ballot count "public". A crowd gathered. Sheriff Mansfield told his deputies to disperse the crowd. When the two ex-GIs smashed a big window and escaped, the crowd surged forward. "The deputies, with guns drawn, formed a tight half-circle around the front of the polling place. One deputy, "his gun raised high ...shouted: 'You sons-of-bitches cross this street and I'll kill you!'" (Byrum, p. 165).
Mansfield took the ballot boxes to the jail for counting. The deputies seemed to fear immediate attack, by the "people who had just liberated Europe and the South Pacific from two of the most powerful war machines in human history." (Byrum, pp. 168-69).
Short of firearms and ammunition, the GIs scoured the county to find them. By borrowing keys to the National Guard and State Guard Armories, they got three M-1 rifles, five .45 semi-automatic pistols, and 24 British Enfield rifles. The armories were nearly empty after the war's end.
By eight p.m., a group of GIs and "local boys" headed for the jail to get the ballot boxes. They occupied high ground facing the jail but left the back door unguarded to give the jail's defenders an easy way out.
VI. The Battle of Athens
Three GIs - alerting passersby to danger - were fired on from the jail. Two GIs were wounded. Other GIs returned fire. Those inside the jail mainly used pistols; they also had a "tommy gun" (a .45 caliber Thompson sub-machine gun).
Firing subsided after 30 minutes: ammunition ran low and night had fallen. Thick brick walls shielded those inside the jail. Absent radios, the GIs' rifle fire was un-coordinated. "From the hillside, fire rose and fell in disorganized cascades. More than anything else, people were simply 'shooting at the jail'." (Byrum, p. 189).
Several who ventured into "no man's land", the street in front of the jail, were wounded. One man inside the jail was badly hurt; he recovered. Most sheriff's deputies wanted to hunker down and await rescue. Governor McCord mobilized the State Guard, perhaps to scare the GIs into withdrawing. The State Guard never went to Athens. McCord may have feared that Guard units filled with ex-GIs might not fire on other ex-GIs.
At about 2 a.m. on 2 August, the GIs forced the issue. Men from Meigs county threw dynamite sticks and damaged the jail's porch. The panicked deputies surrendered. GIs quickly secured the building. Paul Cantrell faded into the night, almost having been shot by a GI who knew him, but whose .45 pistol had jammed. Mansfield's deputies were kept overnight in jail for their own safety. Calm soon returned: the GIs posted guards. The rifles borrowed from the armory were cleaned and returned before sun-up.
VII. The Aftermath: Restoring Democracy in McMinn County
In five precincts free of vote fraud, the GI candidate for Sheriff, Knox Henry, won 1,168 votes to Cantrell's 789. Other GI candidates won by similar margins.
The GIs did not hate Cantrell. They only wanted honest government. On 2 August, a town meeting set up a three-man governing committee. The regular police having fled, six men were chosen to police Athens; a dozen GIs were sent to police Etowah. In addition, "Individual citizens were called upon to form patrols or guard groups, often led by a GI. ...To their credit, however, there is not a single mention of an abuse of power on their behalf." (Byrum, p. 220).
Once the GI candidates' victory had been certified, they cleaned-up county government:
the jail was fixed;
newly-elected officials accepted a $5,000 pay limit;
Mansfield supporters who resigned, were replaced.
The general election on 5 November passed quietly. McMinn Countians, having restored the Rule of Law, returned to their daily lives. Pat Mansfield moved back to Georgia. Paul Cantrell set up an auto dealership in Etowah. "Almost everyone who knew Cantrell in the years after the 'Battle' agree that he was not bitter about what had happened." (Byrum, pp. 232-33; see also New York Times, 9 August 1946, p. 8).
VIII. The Outsiders' Response
The Battle of Athens made national headlines. Most outsiders' reports had the errors usual in coverage of large-scale, night-time events. A New York Times editorialist on 3 August savaged the GIs, who:
"...quite obviously - though we hope erroneously - felt that there was no city, county, or State agency to whom they could turn for justice.
... "There is a warning for all of us in the occurrence...and above all a warning for the veterans of McMinn County, who also violated a fundamental principle of democracy when they arrogated to themselves the right of law enforcement for which they had no election mandate. Corruption, when and where it exists, demands reform, and even in the most corrupt and boss-ridden communities there are peaceful means by which reform can be achieved. But there is no substitute, in a democracy, for orderly process." (NYT, 3 Aug 1946, p. 14.)
The editorialist did not see:
McMinn Countians' many appeals for outside help;
some ruthless people only respect force;
that it was wrong to equate use of force by evil-doers (Cantrell and Mansfield) with the righteous (the GIs).
The New York Times:
never saw that Cantrell and Mansfield's wholesale election fraud, enforced at gun-point, trampled the Rule of Law;
feared citizens' restoring the Rule of Law by armed force.
Other outsiders, e.g., Time and Newsweek, agreed. (See Time, 12 August 1946, p. 20; Newsweek, 12 Aug 1946, p. 31 and 9 September 1946, p. 38).
The 79th Congress adjourned on 2 August 1946, when the Battle of Athens ended. However, Representative John Jennings, Jr., from Tennessee decried:
McMinn County's sorry situation under Cantrell and Mansfield;
the Justice Department's repeated failures to help the McMinn Countians.
Jennings was delighted that "...at long last decency and honesty, liberty and law have returned to the fine county of McMinn...". (Congressional Record, House; U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C., 1946; Appendix, Volume 92, Part 13, p. A4870.)
IX. The Lessons of Athens
Those who took up arms in Athens, Tennessee:
wanted honest elections, a cornerstone of our Constitutional order;
had repeatedly tried to get Federal or State election monitors;
used armed force so as to minimize harm to the law-breakers;
showed little malice to the defeated law-breakers;
restored lawful government.
The Battle of Athens clearly shows:
how Americans can and should lawfully use armed force;
why the Rule of Law requires unrestricted access to firearms;
how civilians with military-type firearms can beat the forces of "law and order".
Dictators believe that public order is more important than the Rule of Law. However, Americans reject this idea. Criminals can exploit for selfish ends, the use armed force to restore the Rule of Law. But brutal political repression - as practiced by Cantrell and Mansfield - is lethal to many. An individual criminal can harm a handful of people. Governments alone can brutalize thousands, or millions.
Since 1915, officials of seven governments "gone bad" have committed genocide, murdering at least 56 million persons, including millions of children. "Gun control" clears the way for genocide by giving governments "gone bad" far greater freedom to commit mass murder.
Law-abiding McMinn Countians won the Battle of Athens because they were not hamstrung by "gun control". McMinn Countians showed us when citizens can and should use armed force to support the Rule of Law. We are all in their debt.
This is a bare bones summary of a major report in JPFO's Firearms Sentinel (January 1995). To learn how the gutsy people of Athens, Tennessee did the Framers of the Constitution proud, send $3 to JPFO, 2872 South Wentworth Avenue; Milwaukee, WI 53207; and request the January 1995 Firearms Sentinel. This document is from: [email protected] (A.K. Pritchard)
Press reports on the Battle of Athens and Chronology From contemporary sources.
[QUOTEW. O. Kennedy, Republican election commissioner and crowd of veterans walked to Kennedy's garage and tire shop near the center of town. Two deputies, with badges and sidearms walked toward the crowd. This was a mistake as this was most assuredly seen in the abstract a representation of a decade of tyranny and oppression of a despotic government, the Cantrell political machine. The crowd was quickly inflamed at the arrogance of the two deputies and suddenly there were yells of "Kill them, kill them" sounded in the streets. The deputies drew their guns and prepared to shoot down anyone who came near.
It is the trained and instinctive nature of veterans of war to react offensively at such an oppressive act committed by the deputies. Otto Kennedy and his civilian task force accepted the challenge. They rushed across the street and overwhelmed the two deputies before the pair could choose a target for their fire.
W. O. Kennedy, his two brothers and several other furious vets attacked the deputies with a proper assault and battery upon their faces and ripping their clothes.
The crowds packing the main square heard of an impending attack by the sheriff's force and rushed to the scene.
First False Alarm
Cries of "here they come" sent the onlookers scattering wildly for shelter but the garage garrison stood firm and waited for the assault. When no more gunmen appeared alter five minutes the crowd came out from the hedges, homes and parked cars.
By now there were literally thousands of people mostly men strung along a three-block area. They were frightened people, and people who were ashamed of their town's politics, but something in the attitude of these embattled veterans held them.
Second Alarm Netted Two More Deputies
The veterans waited. The mob huddled back against the store as soon as the shot came. Another thunderous warning, "Here they come," emptied the streets. It was an anti-climax. There were no onrush carloads of deputies. Only two deputies appeared.
They had guns of course. But the group at the garage had two guns now. Kennedy's rangers made short work of them as they had the first two. The second pair were marched into the garage to join the first pair. Chattanooga Times reporter Richard Rogers attempted to mingle among the crowd when he was spotted as an unrecognizable intruder by a veteran and that veteran challenged him for his business being there. The reporter identified himself and was promptly escorted into the garage were the captured deputies were. In any act of revolt there is the human nature to extract the same king of punishment upon the tyrannical proponents that they had inflicted upon the citizenry. The veteran guards over the four deputies, in using intimidation and humiliation tactics common in any war goaded any one or all the deputies to attempt anything to give justification in the veteran's desire to shoot them, saying "Go ahead, you sons of --------. I'd love to kill every --------- one of you. The reporter's escort pushed him closer to the deputies quite possibly to provide the reporter the opportunity to interview the prisoners, saying to the deputies, "Here's a reporter."
Third Alarm Nets Three More Deputies
This interview arrangement was interrupted with another alarm warning from outside. "Here they come!" The reporter's escort spun around, and ran outside again. One guard ran after him. This left the four deputies with one veteran guard and the reporter. The lone guard threatened the prisoners saying, "If those guys get in here and get me, I'll kill you first." Another yell bellowed from the street. A veteran stuck his head through the door and shouted "Watch out! They're going to rush us." The reporter ducked behind a stack of tires.
Just then there came the loudest most frightening, skin crawling roar of voices those people could emit. The reporter saw the lone guard waving one gun in his direction and upon seeing its muzzle, comparing it to the size of Chattanooga's Braided Tunnel, he jumped through the window which was behind him and the stack of tires.
Now out on the street the reporter had seen that the crowd had grown and saw one carrying a 12-gauge shotgun and another had a repeating rifle. Unexpectedly, three deputies appeared on the street. Two were overcome immediately. The third was overpowered by Otto Kennedy, throwing himself upon the larger man, shoved his own .45 against the fellow's face and the fight went out of the deputy. That was the last capture of the engagement.
Transport Seven Captured Deputies Out of Town
The crowd remained in the streets. The veterans pleaded for volunteers to haul the deputies out of town, and one by one, citizens came forward with automobiles.
One of these was an aged gentleman who operates a hardware store near the Essankay garage. He introduced himself as Emmett Johnson. "Do you live in Athens, sir?"
"I do. And today I'm ashamed of my home. These gangsters have disgraced us. If the boys want my car they can have it. They can have anything. They should have started cleaning up on those crooks a long time ago." As the deputies lives were in grave danger they were put into cars and driven out of town. Then the crowd was told to scatter. The crowd reluctantly dispersed.
W. O. Kennedy Interviewed By Five Chattanooga Times Staff Reporters Kennedy agreed to an interview with the Chattanooga Times. Five of the Times staff drove a mile into the country to Kennedy's home. At the Kennedy home were Otto Kennedy introducing his brothers J.P. and C.O.; J.B. Adams, his son-in-law, and Frank McCracken.
Otto Kennedy revealed the deputies were out-of-towners. And one claimed he got arrested this morning on a traffic charge and instead of paying the fine they made him a deputy and gave him a gun.
Second Ballot Box Taken To Jail
The sheriff's men, assisted by state highway patrolmen and city policemen removed the automobile from in front of Precinct 12 (Dixie Café) and carried the ballot box into the McMinn County bastille, where presumably, Ellis and several other GIs still were being held incommunicado. As the sheriff's men carried the box across the jailhouse lawn, they were preceded by two men armed with shotguns and followed by four more equipped with heavy-gauge shotguns and high-powered rifles. Apparently pistols, of which several hundred were on display, were not longer considered to handle the occasion.
GI's Gather At GI Headquarters
GI's Converge On The Jail
A crowd of about 500 armed with pistols and light rifles moved on the jail.
Ralph Duggan, a former Navy lieutenant commander and a leader of the ex-GI's said the crowd was "met by gun fire" and because they had "promised that the ballots would be counted as cast," they had "no choice but to meet fire with fire." Violence flared anew with GIs reported firing on the county jail. Shooting began around 9:00 pm for the first time. Sheriff Pat Mansfield Interviewed By Chattanooga Daily Times Via Telephone
Sheriff Pat Mansfield breaks off telephone conversations to Chattanooga Daily Times, stating "I can't talk anymore there's mob violence at the County Jail right now. Things are too hot here now. I haven't got time to talk to you I'm standing in front of the door." he said hurriedly as he hung up the telephone.
Sheriff Pat Mansfield and Deputies Threaten Hostages
Sheriff Pan Mansfield and deputies threatened to kill three GI hostages held within the jailhouse. The three GI hostages are Felix Harrod, Tom Dooley and Walter Ellis.
Thousands of Rounds Exchanged
11:35 pm-12:40 am
Thousands of rounds of shots were exchanged between ex-GIs and an estimated 75 deputies barricaded in the McMinn County jail. No state guardsman had arrived at 12:40. Former soldiers were pouring lead into every opening in the brick jail. The officers' returning fire was weakening. Some GIs were firing from ground level across White Street. Others were on roofs on the Power Company Building and other near-by structures.
Tennessee State Guard Mobilized?
12:00 am (midnight)
State Adj.-Gen. Hilton Butler announced that he was mobilizing the Sixth Regiment of the State Guard in connection with election violence in McMinn County. This report was later proven untrue.
GIs Cut Telephone Lines To The Jail
GIs cut telephone lines to the jail. The officers, inside the jail, were out of ammunition or running extremely low. Firing of the GIs included rapid bursts of 10 or more shots. Apparently they were using some automatic rifles.
Last Warning! Deputies Threaten Hostages' Lives
Deputies sent out last warning that they would kill three GI hostages within the jail immediately if the firing did not end.
GIs Replied With Ultimatum Of Their Own
GIs issued an ultimatum to the deputies to come out with hands upraised or the crowd would rush the jail.
GIs Escalate The Fight With Use of Dynamite
The ex-GIs went into action with demolition charges home made, but effective. After a fourth blast had rocked the jail one of the deputies leaned from the building and shouted "Stop that blasting. We'll give up we're dying in here. Firing continued a few moments then stopped.
The Deputies Surrendered
The officers began filing out of the battered building. They were searched, and roughly, by the attackers and marched back into the building to be locked in cells under guard of the ex-GIs. When Wyse came out, several in the crowd surged forward and mauled him with fists and elbows before he could be returned to comparative safety of the bullet scarred jail.
Riots & Destruction Begin
Automobiles belonging to deputy sheriffs overturned in streets, smashed and burned.
4:00 a.m. Sunrise.
Battle over. The veterans armed with rifles were patrolling the streets to maintain order by sunrise.
George Woods Concedes
By telephone George Woods concedes GI victory.
Paul Cantrell Concedes Defeat
Frank Cantrell, Mayor of Etowah issued the following statement: "In behalf of my brother Paul Cantrell, I wish to concede the election to the G.I. candidates in order to prevent further shooting. (Signed) Frank Cantrell.
Deputies Released From Jail 9:00 a.m.
GIs Disperse 10:00 a.m.
Three-man Commission Elected
4:00 p.m., Saturday, Aug. 3
Three man commission chosen as governing body by mass meeting at Court House. Volunteers by hundreds offer assistance in setting up government framework.
Cleansing & Restoration
4:00 p.m. Friday to 5:00 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 3
Curious crowds mill streets as the new government cleans up "hot-spots." Beer sales banned. Town is orderly.
Rumored Biggs-Mansfield Invasion Sets GIs On Alert
9:00 p.m. Saturday
Rumor and newspaper story from Knoxville sets off high strung nerves with the report that Biggs and Mansfield will attempt to storm Athens.
1,500 Citizens Converge On Athens
Fifteen hundred citizens pour into Athens with firearms to back the new government. Telephone calls from neighboring cities pledge aid if needed in defense of the town.
GIs on Patrol
7:00 p.m. Saturday Aug. 3 to Sunrise Sunday, Aug. 4
Athens is patrolled by GIs and citizens.
George Woods Returns to McMinn County Under GI Escort
4:00 p.m. Sunday, August 4
G-I CLAIM ELECTION TO OFFICE ISSUE STATEMENT
This special announcement was hand to the Daily Post-Athenian and Radio Station WLAR at 3:02 A.M. by the Non-Partisan Candidates for immediate release shortly before the exodus of imprisoned officials in the county jail:
"The G-I election officials went to the polls unarmed to have a fair election, as Pat Mansfield promised. They were met with black-jacks and pistols.
"Several G-I officials were beaten and the ballot boxes were moved to the jail. The G-I supporters went to the jail to get these ballot boxes and were met by gunfire.
"The G-I candidates had promised that the votes would be counted as cast. They had no choice but to meet fire with fire.
"In the precincts where the G-I candidates were allowed watchers they led by three to one majorities.
"THE G-Is ARE ELECTED AND WILL SERVE AS YOUR COUNTY OFFICIALS BEGINNING SEPT. 1st, 1946."
The G-I Candidates, thus claiming election to officer are:
Knox Henry Sheriff
Frank Carmichael Trustee
Bill Hamby Circuit Court Clerk
Charlie Pickle Register of Deeds
Campaign Mgr for the G-Is was Jim Buttram.
George Woods returns to McMinn County under protection by the GI-Citizens Government.
Sheriff Mansfield Resigned
5:00 p.m. Sunday
Word is received from Nashville that Mansfield had resigned as sheriff.
George Woods Declares GI's Elected
10:00 a.m. Monday, August 5
George Woods signs election certificate declaring GIs officially McMinn County Officers.