The Battle of Athens, Tennessee is a little-known story about a citizen militia against a corrupt political machine. Athens was a small town inhabited by a number of GIs who returned home from World War II to find political bosses, including a corrupt sheriff, controlling the local government by rigging elections. The GIs, incensed at seeing the very freedoms they had fought for in World War II being trampled on upon their return home, countered the corruption by organizing a ticket to run against the sheriff and put him and his cronies out of business. When it became clear the ballots in the election would not be counted fairly, the GIs took matters into their own hands.The Battle of Athens is an extreme example of Americans invoking their Second Amendment rights in order to protect themselves against a tyrannical and oppressive government. [for a historical timeline view of this post click here.
The GIs came home to find that a political machine had taken over their Tennessee county. What they did about it astounded the nation.
In McMinn County, Tennessee, in the early 1940s, the question was not if you farmed, but where you farmed. Athens, the county seat, lay between Knoxville and Chattanooga along U.S. Highway 11, which wound its way through eastern Tennessee. This was the meeting place for farmers from all the surrounding communities. Traveling along narrow roads planted with signs urging them to "See Rock City" and "Get Right with God," they would gather on Saturdays beneath the courthouse elms to discuss politics and crops. There were barely seven thousand people in Athens, and many of its streets were still unpaved.The two "big" cities some fifty miles away had not yet begun their inevitable expansion, and the farmers’ lives were simple and essentially unaffected by what they would have called the "modern world." Many of them were without electricity. The land, their families, religion, politics, and the war dominated their talk and thoughts. They learned about God from the family Bible and in tiny chapels along yellow-dust roads. Their newspaper, the Daily Post-Athenian, told them something of politics and war, but since it chose to avoid intrigue or scandal, a story that smacked of both could be found only in the conversations of the folks who milled about the courthouse lawn on Saturdays.
Since the Civil War, political offices in McMinn County had gone to the Republicans, but in the 1930s Tennessee began to fall under the control of Democratic bosses. To the west, in Shelby County, E.H. Crump, the Memphis mayor who had been ousted during his term for failing to enforce Prohibition, fathered what would become the state’s most powerful political machine. Crump eventually controlled most of Tennessee along with the governor’s office and a United States senator. In eastern Tennessee local and regional machines developed, which, lacking the sophistication and power of a Crump, relied on intimidation and violence to control their constituents.
In 1936 the system descended upon McMinn County in the person of one Paul Cantrell, the Democratic candidate for sheriff. Cantrell, who came from a family of money and influence in nearby Etowah, tied his campaign closely to the popularity of the Roosevelt administration and rode FDR’s coat tails to victory over his Republican opponent.
Fraud was suspected—to this day many Athens citizens firmly believe that ballot boxes were swapped—but there was no proof. Over the following months and years, however, those who questioned the election would see their suspicions vindicated. The laws of Tennessee provided an opportunity for the unscrupulous to prosper. The sheriff and his deputies received a fee for every person they booked, incarcerated, and released; the more human transactions, the more money they got. A voucher signed by the sheriff was all that was needed to collect the money from the courthouse. Deputies routinely boarded buses passing through and dragged sleepy-eyed passengers to the jail to pay their $16.50 fine for drunkenness, whether they were guilty or not. Arrests ran as high as 115 per weekend. The fee system was profitable, but record-keeping was required, and the money could be traced. It was less troublesome to collect kickbacks for allowing roadhouses to operate openly. Cooperative owners would point out influential patrons. They were not bothered, but the rest were subject to shakedowns. Prostitution, liquor, and gambling grew so prevalent that it became common knowledge in Tennessee that Athens was “wide open.”
Encouraged by his initial success, Cantrell began what would become a tenyear reign as the king of McMinn politics. In subsequent elections, ballot boxes were collected from the precincts and the results tabulated in secret at McMinn County Jail in Athens. Opposition poll watchers were labeled as troublemakers and ejected from precinct houses.
The 1940 election sent George Woods, a plump and affable Etowah crony of Cantrell, to the state legislature. Woods promptly introduced “An Act to Redistrict McMinn County.” It reduced the number of voting precincts from twenty-three to twelve and cut down the number of justices of the peace from fourteen to seven. Of these seven, four were openly Cantrell men. When Gov.Prentice Cooper signed Woods’s bill into law on February 15, 1941, effective Republican opposition died in McMinn County.
McMinn County Court, which was still dominated by Republicans, directed the county to purchase voting machines. The Cantrell Democrats countered by having Woods get a bill passed in Nashville abolishing the court and then selling the machines to “save the county money.” Department of Justice records show investigations of electoral fraud in McMinn County in 1940, 1942, and 1944 —all without resolution.
During the Civil War, deep from within secessionist territory, McMinn County had sided with the Union; in 1898 she had declared war on Spain two weeks before Washington got around to it. How could Cantrell have such undisputed control over a county noted for its independent and cantankerous spirit? One answer lies in the Second World War: 3,526 young men, or about 10 percent of McMinn’s population, went off to fight. Most of those left behind—older and perhaps more timid—contributed to the Cantrell machine’s growth by remaining silent. Still, as the war dragged on, people began to tell each other, “Wait until the GIs get back—things will be different.”
In the summer of 1945 veterans began returning home; by 1946 the streets of Athens overflowed with uniforms. The Cantrell forces were not worried.
The more GIs they arrested,” one vet recalled, “the more they beat up, the madder we got.”
Bill White recalled coming home from overseas with mustering-out pay in his pocket: “There were several beer joints and honky-tonks around Athens; we were pretty wild; we started having trouble with the law enforcement at that time because they started making a habit of picking up GIs and fining them heavily for most anything — they were kind of making a racket out of it.
“After long hard years of service—most of us were hard-core veterans of World War II—we were used to drinking our liquor and our beer without being molested. When these things happened, the GIs got madder—the more GIs they arrested, the more they beat up, the madder we got …”
At last the veterans chose to use the most basic right of the democracy for which they had gone to war: the right to vote. In the early months of 1946 they decided in secret meetings to field a slate of their own candidates for the August elections. In May they formed a nonpartisan political party.
As the election approached, there were few overt signs of impending trouble, although to the citizens of McMinn County it was apparent that something had to happen: there was too much at stake on both sides. The Daily Post-Athenian was characteristically silent. The most significant news item appeared on election eve, July 31,1946, at the bottom of page one: VFW members in neighboring Blount County said that four hundred and fifty veterans were ready to respond to any need in McMinn County. Above this was a report that Tony Pierce had killed a muskrat in his front yard.
The veterans fielded candidates for five offices, but interest centered on the race for sheriff between Knox Henry, who had served in the North African campaign, and Paul Cantrell. Since the 1936 election Cantrell had gone on to the legislature as state senator and installed Pat Mansfield as sheriff of McMinn County. A big, jovial sometime engineer for the Louisville & Nashville, Mansfield had done very nicely for himself during his term of office: his four years as sheriff had netted him an estimated $104,000. But now, in 1946, Cantrell was running for sheriff and Mansfield for state senator.
In the final week a flurry of advertisements appeared in the Post-Athenian; Cantrell enumerated the accomplishments of the Democratic party; Mansfield denied that two men arrested on July 30 with a shipment of liquor were deputies, even though they admitted they were and had been delivering “election whiskey”; downtown merchants announced that all stores would be closed on Election Day to give employees a chance to vote, although this had not been necessary in previous elections (the merchants were perhaps following the example of the mayor of Athens, Paul Walker, who would be vacationing on Election Day); Cantrell warned that the veterans had printed sample ballots with the intention of stuffing ballot boxes; the veterans offered a one-thousand-dollar reward for verifiable information about election fraud and repeated a slogan that for weeks had sounded again and again from their carmounted loudspeakers: YOUR VOTE WILL BE COUNTED AS CAST.
Two days before the election the GIs ran an advertisement in the Post-Athenian: “These young men fought and won a war for good government. They know what it takes and what it means to have a clean government—and they are energetic enough, honest enough and intelligent enough to give us good, clean government.” A couple of pages farther on, the Democrats had their say: “Look at the facts—and you will vote for the Democratic ticket. The campaign fight is as old as the hills—it is the story of the outs wanting back in.”
The next day, the paper reported that veterans from Blount County had offered to come help watch the polls. Mansfield began building an army of his own. “It has come to my attention,” he announced, “that certain elements intend to create a disturbance at and around the polls. … In order to see that law and order is maintained … I will have several hundred deputies patrolling the county.” He hired all of them from outside the county, some from out of state.They would crowd inside every voting precinct. And they would be armed.
August 1, 1946: Election Day found voters lined up early in the largest turnout in local history. Joining them were some three hundred of Sheriff Mansfield’s special deputies. Trouble began early. At 9:30 A.M. Walter Ellis, a legally appointed GI representative at the first precinct in the courthouse, was arrested and jailed for protesting irregularities.
Sirens wailed throughout the morning, and police cruisers were seen speeding toward the jail. GIs began gathering on Washington Street outside L. L. Shaefer’s jewelry store, which served as an office for their campaign manager, Jim Buttram, who had seen action in Africa, Sicily, Italy, and Normandy. Above the door a sign read: “Phone 787, Jim Buttram,” the number to which voters were to report election fraud. Only after prolonged pounding did a harried Buttram cautiously open the door to his comrades. As more than two hundred GIs filled the small store, the somber mood of their leader told them they were in trouble. He showed them copies of two telegrams dated July 22: one he had addressed to Gov. Jim McCord, Nashville, Tennessee; the other to Att. Gen. Tom Clark, Washington, D.C. They requested assistance to ensure a fair election.Neither had been answered.
Otto Kennedy, not an ex-GI himself but a political adviser to the veterans, entered the office and announced that Cantrell had posted armed guards at each precinct. They all knew that this move was in preparation for the 4:00 P.M. poll closings when the ballot boxes would be moved to the jail for counting. A small group of the veterans demanded an armed mobilization and called for a leader. Buttram declined. So did Kennedy, but he offered the rear of his Essankay Garage and Tire Shop across the street as a meeting hall.
The group crossed the street, held a meeting, and agreed that those who did not have weapons should get them and return as quickly as possible.
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 local bartender.
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 revolver.
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 before."
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!" said Neil.
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, protesting.
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 11.
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 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 Manager 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.
“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 it.” ~ Eleanor Roosevelt wife of FDR
- “The Battle of Athens [TN] – TheBlazeTV – REAL HISTORY – ” — In this week’s Real History, the story of how a group of returning WWII veter.
- AGENDAS: The Battle Of Athens – Tennessee! (deadcitizensrightssociety.wordpress.com)
- Stop the Gun-grabbers! (therionorteline.com)
- Armed World War 2 Veterans Stormed Local Government! Fired shots on jail! (VIDEO) (thelibertarianrepublic.com)
- Video: The Battle of Athens, Citizens Rebel Against Corrupt Political Machine | cnbnews.net (gloucestercitynews.net)
- How Progressives Attacked America before in 1946 (lightontruth.wordpress.com)
- Miracles and Massacres: True and Untold Stories of the Making of America (glennbeck.com)
- ‘One of the Most Important Stories From American History’ That You’ve Probably Never Heard (theblaze.com)
- Fort Oglethorpe mayor decries footage featuring guns, dynamite (timesfreepress.com)