On August 1-2, 1946, some Americans, brutalized by their county government,
used armed force as a last resort 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.
These Americans were residents of McMinn County, which is located between
Chattanooga and Knoxville in Eastern Tennessee. The two main towns were Athens
and Etowah. McMinn County residents had long been independent political
thinkers. For a long time they also had: 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; and put up with voting fraud by both Democrats and
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.
At the end of 1945, some 3,000 battle-hardened veterans returned to 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 by offering an all-ex-GI, non-partisan ticket. They promised a
fraud-free election, stating in ads and speeches that there would be an honest
ballot count and reform of county government.
At a rally, a GI speaker said, "The principles 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 the end of 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 County residents' complaints
of election fraud in 1940, 1942 and 1944.
The primary election was held on August 1. 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 that he could not vote. 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;
Other deputies detained ex-GI poll-watchers in a polling place, as that made
the ballot counting "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: 'If you sons of bitches cross this street 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 8 p.m. a group of GIs and
"local boys" headed for the jail but left the back door unguarded to
give the jail's defenders an easy way out.
Three GIs alerting passersby to danger were fired on from the jail. Two GIs
were wounded. Other GIs returned fire.
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 uncoordinated. "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 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
At about 2 a.m. on August 2, 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, having almost 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 sunup.
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
The GI's did not hate Cantrell. They only wanted honest government. On August
2, a town meeting set up a three-man governing committee. The regular police
having fled, six men were chosen 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 and Mansfield supporters who resigned were replaced.
The general election on November 5 passed quietly. McMinn County residents,
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).
The 79th Congress adjourned on August 2, 1946, when the Battle of Athens
ended. However, Representative John Jennings Jr. from Tennessee decried McMinn
County's sorry situation under Cantrell and Mansfield and the Justice
Department's repeated failures to help the McMinn County residents. 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).
Those who took up arms in Athens, Tennessee, wanted honest elections, a
cornerstone of our constitutional order. They had repeatedly tried to get
federal or state election monitors and had used armed force so as to minimize
harm to the law-breakers, showing little malice to the defeated law-breakers.
They restored lawful government.
The Battle of Athens clearly shows how Americans can and should lawfully use
armed force and also shows why the rule of law requires unrestricted access to
firearms and how civilians with military-type firearms can beat the forces of
government gone bad.
Dictators believe that public order is more important than the rule of law.
However, Americans reject this idea. Brutal political repression is lethal to
many. An individual criminal can harm a handful of people. Governments alone can
brutalize thousands, or millions.
Law-abiding McMinn County residents won the Battle of Athens because they
were not hamstrung by "gun control " They showed us when citizens can
and should use armed force to support the rule of law.
From a JPFO Supporter
THE BATTLE OF ATHENS, TENNESSEE FROM MY OWN RESEARCH
I have done my own research into the Battle of Athens, Tennessee, 1946, and
even traveled to Athens, Tennessee, for that research. The following are the
pristine examples of a fight for freedom that I uncovered from my research:
SOURCE: The Daily Post-Athenian, Athens, Tenn., August 7, 1946; pages 1, 6.
Mrs. Roosevelt Grasps Local Facts Better Than Most
Editor's Note Our attention has been called to Mrs. Roosevelt's column
upon McMinn. She seems to have grasped the facts and significance better than
any other outside writer:
McMinn A Warning By Eleanor Roosevelt
New York, Monday After any war, the use of force throughout the world
is almost taken for granted. Men involved in the war have been trained to use
force, and they have discovered that, when you want something, you can take
it. The return to peacetime methods governed by law and persuasion is usually
We in the U.S.A., who have long boasted that, in our political life,
freedom in the use of the secret ballot made it possible for us to register
the will of the people without the use of force, have had a rude awakening as
we read of conditions in McMinn County, Tennessee, which brought about the use
of force in the recent primary. If a political machine does not allow the
people free expression, then freedom-loving people lose their faith in the
machinery under which their government functions.
In this particular case, a group of young veterans organized to oust the
local machine and elect their own slate in the primary. We may deplore the use
of force but we must also recognize the lesson which this incident points for
us all. When the majority of the people know what they want, they will obtain
Any local, state or national government, or any political machine, in order
to live, must give the people assurance that they can express their will
freely and that their votes will be counted. The most powerful machine cannot
exist without the support of the people. Political bosses and political
machinery can be good, but the minute they cease to express the will of the
people, their days are numbered.
This is a lesson which wise political leaders learn young, and you can be
pretty sure that, when a boss stays in power, he gives the majority of the
people what they think they want. If he is bad and indulges in practices which
are dishonest, or if he acts for his own interests alone, the people are
unwilling to condone these practices.
When the people decide that conditions in their town, county, state or
country must change, they will change them. If the leadership has been wise,
they will be able to do it peacefully through a secret ballot which is
honestly counted, but if the leader has become inflated and too sure of his
own importance, he may bring about the kind of action which was taken in
If we want to continue to be a mature people who, at home and abroad,
settle our difficulties peacefully and not through the use of force, then we
will take to heart this lesson and we will jealously guard our rights. What
goes on before an election, the threats or persuasion by political leaders,
may be bad but it cannot prevent the people from really registering their will
if they wish to.
The decisive action which has just occurred in our midst is a warning, and
one which we cannot afford to overlook.
SOURCE: The Daily Post-Athenian, Athens, Tenn., August 21, 1946; Page 1,6.
Lincoln Said It And It Applies Now As Then
BY JOHN PECK
"The government, with its institutions, belongs to the people who
inhabit it. Whenever they shall grow weary of the existing government, they
can exercise their constitutional right of amending it, or their revolutionary
right to dismember or overthrow it." Abraham Lincoln
We have seen the latter part of the above quotation exercised here in
McMinn County. We now have the opportunity to see the first part of it carried
What Lincoln meant was just this: The government of any group of people is
in the hands of the people and they must carry on an active part in
maintaining their government unless they want to abide by the rule of a few
unscrupulous persons who find ways and means of getting the reins of power in
governmental offices. If the people as a whole do not maintain a vigilant
watch over matters of government a few people, grasping for power and
domination find it easy to undermine all the principles of democracy.
It has been said that the situation now prevailing in McMinn County puts
its citizens in the best position of any county in the state and possibly in
the nation as to the control and manipulation of its government.
We are in just that position if the people as a whole will attend the
county-wide mass meetings tomorrow night and participate in the election of
the representatives of their respective communities who will serve on the
Board of Directors of the Good government League of McMinn County.
The people who are elected must have the knowledge that they have the
backing of all the people in their community when they go to the various
meetings of the Board of Directors and vote on the matters of government that
come before that body.
The choice is in your hands; 1. Take an active part in your government, as
is your duty and privilege as a citizen, or 2. The next time you find that
your government has fallen into the hands of unscrupulous politicians just
say, "It's my own fault, I had a chance to do something about it but
slept through it."
SOURCE: The Knoxville Journal, August 10, 1946; Page 1, 2.
Arkansas GIs Threat New Riots
Say Athens, Tenn., Outbreak May Be Mild In Comparison
Little Rock, Ark., Aug. 9 (UP) Determined veterans' opposition to
entrenched local political machines flared heatedly in several Arkansas
counties today, and one GI candidate said the Athens, Tenn., rioting would be
"mild in comparison if there are any irregularities" at the polls.
At Malvern, William Weaver, veteran and candidate for sheriff in Hot
Springs County, charged his opponent, Ed Deere, was "custodian" of
the ballot boxes and warned that "what will happen here" would
eclipse the Tennessee GI political revolt.
In Yell County, near the Oklahoma border, a crowd of 1500 veterans prepared
for a mass meeting tonight to draft an independent ticket to oppose the
machine slate of Chancellor John E. Chambers in general elections in the
"free state of Yell."
In Hot Spring County, Weaver and Coyle Collie, veteran of the Battle of the
Bulge, are trying to overthrow the long-entrenched machine of Sheriff Jack
GIs at Malvern planned a meeting tomorrow night. Weaver said "we just
want to get a foot in the door of Knight's 'little Tammany' machine."
Meanwhile, a five-man committee of veterans found an 87-vote discrepancy in
votes cast for county treasurer, thus placing Norman Gray, veterans'
candidate, in a runoff with incumbent Treasurer Ernest Stroud. The first
official count declared Stroud the winner with a majority, but disgruntled GI
forces appointed the committee last night to examine the ballots.
In Ouachita a hot election loomed in which veterans are opposing veterans.
Despite a no-political clause in its constitution, the Arkansas Department
of Veterans of Foreign Wars entered the picture with a statement by State
Commander Bob Ed. Loftin, who charged politicians were trying to
"use" the VFW vote to influence undecided voters.
In Hot Springs (Garland County), a final move to defeat the only successful
GI candidate against Mayor Leo McLaughlin's potent local machine, failed
Prosecuting Atty. Curtis Ridgeway, defeated by ex-Marine Col. Signey McMath,
demanded a recount, but the new totals changed only two votes.
McMath was the only veteran-supported candidate to win the recent primary.
SOURCE: The Chattanooga Daily Times, Thursday, August 8, 1946
Repeat on Athens Narrowly Avoided
Crockett County Just Misses Election Day Violence
Alamo, Tenn., Aug 7 (AP) a Crockett County political leader revealed
today that violence similar to that which marked the Tennessee election at
Athens last week was narrowly avoided here.
J. T. Green, post commander of the American Legion, disclosed that two mass
meetings of veterans were held to dissipate tension among the supporters of an
air force veteran, John Paul Butler, 26, who ran for state representative.
"Our boys were ready to go," said Green, "but we didn't want
an Athens job here. We want to see what can be done legally in the
Butler, whose campaign was managed by Green, was defeated by former State
Sen. W. H. Stallings of near-by Friendship by 14 votes. Green said the result
would be contested before the state primary board. "It would have been
the same as Athens here," said Butler, "except that we quieted our
boys down. We talked them out of using violence."
Butler said his opponent was supported by "a machine."
The Chronology of The Battle of Athens
Election Day, August 1, 1946
Voting poles opened. Voter turn out was heavy.
The First Flare Up Precinct 1 (Courthouse)
The Jailing of Walter Ellis
Shortly after 10:00 am
Conflicting reports as to when Walter Ellis, GI election judge was
arrested, one account says 9:30, another says shortly after 10:00 am, but the
overall details are consistent. Ellis was summarily arrested and hauled off to
the county jail. He was replaced by Fred West. Dispute over who exactly Fred
West was immediately erupted. The sheriff's office described West as another
GI; Jim Buttram, the GI ticket manager described him as a deputy sheriff and
Ellis was held incommunicado at the county jail, and Sheriff Mansfield's
men flatly declined to permit either reporters or Buttram to see him.
Magistrate Herman Moses, when asked what charges had been placed declared
Ellis had "attempted to perpetrate a fraud" by marking ballots in
Precinct 1, at the courthouse. Buttram admitted frankly he did not know what
had happened in the voting precinct prior to Ellis' arrest but said Sheriff
Mansfield's men refused to permit him to make bond for Ellis or to tell him
what charges had been placed against the ex-GI.
The Courthouse (Precinct 1)
11:00 am-2:00 pm
The corridor of the courthouse was crowded with voters, both men and women.
Ellis already had been removed, but evidently in fear of some disorder, about
20 deputies, hands on pistols, and blackjacks ready, pushed through the crowd
to the voting precinct.
This overgrown combat squad was reinforced by several uniformed and armed
city policemen and a state highway patrolman with his hand fingering a heavy
The deputies ranged themselves around the voting precinct and several,
including one dressed like a character from a western movie, placed themselves
on the steps where they could watch the entire corridor. Ex-servicemen regard
the day's proceedings with varying attitudes but most of them displayed a
bitterness seldom seen in the fighting lines. One ex-soldier watching the
guarded vote counting before it was moved to the county jail said: "Over
there we had something to fight back with." Another remarked, "We
just aren't well enough organized and we haven't got guns. We haven't got a
chance with this gestapo."
"This is causing a lot of bitterness, and a lot of it will come later
today," a man remarked.
The Shooting of Tom Gillespie
Precinct 11, Athens Water Company Building
Tom Gillespie, a [black] farmer came into the Athens Water Company
building, which was serving as the 11th Precinct, to vote. It is not clear
which of Cantrell's men positioned himself behind Gillespie to observe his
vote but when he was observed to be preparing to vote "the wrong
way" the Cantrell man told Gillespie, "You'll have to get out of
here. You're voting in the wrong precinct."
Gillespie protested to Deputy Windy Wise, "I've always voted here
For this monumental impertinence, Wise slugged Gillespie with brass
knuckles and shot him with what was said to be a U.S. Army .45 as he stumbled
out the door. Gillespie suffered a flesh wound in the small of the back and
was taken off by deputy sheriffs for what they said would be treatment.
Just to show that the racial question didn't enter into this
travesty-on-an-election, the gold starred deputies directed their attention to
the GI election clerks and women who were witnessing the count.
Apparently, their presence was embarrassing to the professional election
thieves. Election Judge (and deputy sheriff) Karl Neil, pistol on hip, ordered
Mrs H. A. Vestal and five other women to leave the polls. "Get out!"
The women stood their ground. "We have a right to watch you count the
ballots," one said.
Go on, get out of here!" shouted Neil, and the women filed out,
This wasn't enough. Four GI's remained to keep the ballot thieves in line.
They were James Edward Vestal (Mrs. Vestal's son), Charles Scott, Jr., Charley
Hyde, and J. P. Cartwright.
The [Cantrell] machine had six of its bigger bicep boys there, three
wearing sidearms. Deputy Neil then ordered Cartwright and Hyde to "go up
in the front and sit down." They said they couldn't see the count from
there. "Go on up front and sit down, you don't have to see us count 'em."
snarled a muscular thug.
Cartwright said he wouldn't stay if he couldn't witness the count, so he
and Hyde left. This left Vestal and Scott as the only GI watchers for Precinct
When Cartwright and Hyde emerged, a roar of anger went up from the hundreds
of citizens across the street. The eight or nine deputies in front of the
waterworks office fingered their weapons. Charles Scott, Sr. sent word in to
his son and Vestal to "come on out. We don't want you boys alone in there
with those gangsters."
GI Judge Bob Hairrell Beaten 3:15 pm
Bob Hairrell, GI judge, beaten by Minis Wilburn, officer of the election,
12 precinct, North White Street, Athens.
The First Poll Closing (Illegally)
12th Precinct, Dixie Café
The first closing come at the 12th Precinct, back of the Dixie Café and
next to the county jail. The legal closing time was 4 pm. The door was locked
and Sheriff Mansfield's men lifted an automobile to the sidewalk, placed it
directly in front of the precinct door. Two other cars were placed across the
narrow alley to block access to the area of the voting place, and sheriff's
deputies, hands on their pistols, guard against entry into the area.
While GIs watched with a scowl Sheriff Mansfield and a dozen of his
deputies piled into two cars and drove off to the 11th Precinct at the Water
Commission office. There, deputies, with guns ready, kept all observers away
from the sidewalk in front of the office, and a throng of several hundred
watched silently from across the street.
11th Precinct, Water Commission Office
Inside, according to stories the GIs told later, Charles Scott, Jr., and
James Howard Vestal, watchers for the GI ticket, were ordered to take seats in
front of the room, while the vote counting, by Cantrell men, went on at the
rear. Vestal and Scott demanded that they either be permitted to see the
ballots or be allowed to leave the area. The sheriff's men refused and ordered
them to, "Sit down, you're staying right here." They sat down. A few
minutes later, Scott told the machine politicians again that they were
leaving. At this, the machine men barricaded the ex-GIs behind a counter and
locked the door.
"We jumped on the counter, climbed over it and tried to get out. The
door was locked," Vestal said "and Charlie hit it with his shoulder.
They were right at us and trying to slug us with knuckles and their guns. He
broke the glass and we stumbled through. Charlie was cut around the shoulders.
I got cut a little too, and fell down coming through the door." The door
was a plate glass set in a wood frame.
A Sickening Sight
Then over a thousand people witnessed a sickening sight. Vestal who was
until January of this year a first lieutenant in the army engineers corps and
twice wounded in the Pacific, scrambled to his feet, blood dripping from a
gash in his left hand. Scott too, picked himself up. Through the broken glass,
immediately on their heels squirmed Deputy Sheriff Wendy Wise, a shiny .38
revolver poked out in front of his nose. He shouted something which was lost
in the moan which went through the crowd. Women screamed; one shouted,
"Oh, god, here it comes." From a long line of ex-soldiers on the
sidewalk across the street came gasp's, then cries "let's go get 'em!";
"No, we got no guns, stay away from them .45s." Vestal and Scott,
whether heeding Wise's orders or through quick instinct, threw their hands
high above their heads and walked slowly and alone across the empty street to
the refuge of the crowd. Wise leveled his revolver at their backs, then
whirled with the instinct of the gunman to one side and then the other to
insure against a potshot at himself from the crowd then aimed again at the
backs of the veterans. George Spurling, another deputy, popped up at Wise's
side and slowly brought his pistol down in the direction of the retreating
boys, aiming either at them or some of the jeering GIs on the sidewalk to
which they were going. He and Wise for a few seconds gave every appearance of
being trigger happy. It seemed to us, standing just across the street, that
Spurling was in the act of pressing his trigger when another deputy half
grabbed his arm, gave him a half-dozen swift slaps in the ribs as a signal not
to fire. As Vestal and Scott completed their long, measured march, their GI
comrades, boiling mad by now, cried to Wise and other deputies, "Throw
down your guns and come out in the street and we'll fight you man for man.
Wise ducked back into the Water Commission Office.
But further activity was forestalled when Chief Deputy Boe Dunn drove up in
a blue sedan, with two ex-soldiers, Felix Harrod, election clerk, and Tom
Dooley, election judge, for the all GI ticket were, being forcibly held and
transported by Dunn's group, as six men piled out. The deputies formed a
cordon from the precinct to the car and Dunn himself went in and stole the
ballot box. At least 15 pistols were trained on the citizens of Athens as the
deputies rolled away with the ballot box. They went straight to the county
jail. Several citizens broke from the crowd, shouting, "Get your guns,
boys, get your guns!"
Vestal and Scott Taken To The Hospital
Vestal's wounds were treated by Dr. C.O. Foree in the physician's clinic.
Two stitches were required to close the slash on his ankle. He also suffered a
cut hand. Vestal was a first lieutenant in the 3rd Combat Engineers, 24th
Division. He was overseas 30 months, was hit by a Jap hand grenade once and
wounded by artillery fire once. "How did today compare to fighting
overseas?" he was asked. He was quiet for a moment. "Well, today it
made you madder than it did over there. And it was closer range."
First Violent Incident in McMinn County
Kennedy's Essankay Tire Company
W. 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
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
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
"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
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
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
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
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
"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
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
JPFO, Dept. GA
PO Box 270143 (go to JPFO website to make sure of address, since this page
is a copy of information from years ago).
Hartford, WI 53027