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"Battle of Athens, Tennessee, 1946" Topic

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doc mcb14 Jan 2013 8:06 a.m. PST


An armed conflict lasting two days between a corrupt local government and group of locals including a number of WWII veterans who took weapons from the local National Guard armory. Lots of shots fired, some casualties though no deaths.

Not much of a BATTLE but might make a pretty interesting scenario for any rules system including psychological and political conflict.

Lots of details here based on newspaper accounts -- possibly of dubious accuracy -- along with commentary: link

doc mcb14 Jan 2013 8:09 a.m. PST

Whoops, meant to be MODERN not medieval! Editor, can you fix?

Personal logo Parzival Supporting Member of TMP14 Jan 2013 8:31 a.m. PST

More from Tennessee's state government website: link
(You'll have to scroll down a bit to find the McMinn County War and the Battle of Athens story.) It doesn't add that much, aside from photos, but goes to largely confirm the Wikipedia account.

Thanks for bringing this one up, Doc. I hadn't ever read of it before. Truly a fascinating bit of both Tennessee and US history.

Could work as a skirmish game, too.

Personal logo Rebel Minis Sponsoring Member of TMP14 Jan 2013 8:45 a.m. PST

Wow, I had no idea and I live 20 min from there. Thanks Doc! I am going to do some more research!

Legion 414 Jan 2013 9:18 a.m. PST

Very Timely with the current Gun Control craze in the media …

doc mcb14 Jan 2013 9:34 a.m. PST

Yes, if "History is what the Present finds useful to remember about the Past," then I will not be surprised to see this episode cited by one side in the gun control debate.

morrigan14 Jan 2013 12:08 p.m. PST

Very interesting!

Napoleon9114 Jan 2013 12:14 p.m. PST

I live near there as well (Knoxville) and knew nothing of this piece of history! In a, somewhat, related vein check out the "Battle of Maxton NC" between the Lumbee Indians and the KKK.

Here is a link to the Maxton story: PDF link

Tgunner14 Jan 2013 2:13 p.m. PST

Pretty cool. Hopefully it's real… you've gotta be careful with Wikipedia!

Yes, if "History is what the Present finds useful to remember about the Past," then I will not be surprised to see this episode cited by one side in the gun control debate.

If memory serves this is exactly the reason why the Founding Fathers wanted an armed populace:

Alexander Hamilton Federalist Paper 29:

"If the representatives of the people betray their constituents, there is then no recourse left but in the exertion of that original right of self-defense which is paramount to all positive forms of government, and which against the usurpations of the national rulers may be exerted with infinitely better prospect of success than against those of the rulers of an individual State. In a single State, if the persons intrusted with supreme power become usurpers, the different parcels, subdivisions, or districts of which it consists, having no distinct government in each, can take no regular measures for defense. The citizens must rush tumultuously to arms, without concert, without system, without resource; except in their courage and despair.!"

doc mcb14 Jan 2013 5:11 p.m. PST

Well, of course Hamilton was an advocate making a case for the Constitution. It is true that the counties and towns are creatures of the state, unlike the states that are sovereign units of a sovereign federal system. However, the reality is that towns and counties do have governments capable of independent action. I mean, how many armed men does the mayor of NYC command? 20,000?

Hamilton, of course, was not originally in favor of a Bill of Rights, though he and the other federalists went along with the compromise to get the antifederalists on-board with ratification. But you are correct, this is exactly why the 2nd Amendment mentions the militia. On the frontier if the Indians kidnap little Mary, you can't waste time organizing a pursuit, so you have a militia system in place. Claim clubs, vigilantes, neighborhood watches, etc., with all their dangers, are attempts to correct the weakness Hamilton points out.

Personal logo Parzival Supporting Member of TMP14 Jan 2013 6:57 p.m. PST

Pretty cool. Hopefully it's real… you've gotta be careful with Wikipedia!

The Battle of Athens was real. Follow my link to the official state website with the history of the event.

But you are correct, this is exactly why the 2nd Amendment mentions the militia.

From memory, which I believe serves me well: "A well-regulated militia being necessary to the preservation of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed." (Please correct me if my memory is flawed.)

The only amendment in the Bill of Rights which has an explanation as to its purpose, I believe. Interestingly enough, at the time it was written it would have been interpreted to include virtually any arm, including cannon (the most powerful weapons of that age), and was also intended to apply to both the entirety of a community and the individual— one merely needs to recall that its origins lay in the Minutemen, or militia, of Lexington and Concord (that is, the armed citizenry), who were both individually armed and maintained an arsenal for their use as an organized fighting body operating under their own authority (not the state's). The start of the Revolutionary War was nothing less than an attempt by the British government to seize this arsenal and thereby eliminate the ability of the local citizenry to either defend themselves or rebel. The British sought control; they received rebellion. Thus, the reminder in the amendment— basically to say "this is why we do this— so that we can remain free."
Intriguingly, by implication the amendment could provide for a community (at least) to arm itself with virtually any weapon. "Hey, mayor— we need our own F-22!" grin However, the statement could also imply a certain level of restriction— in that perhaps the arms would need to be logically useful for the stated purpose. (I would be hard to argue that a community needs a nuclear-armed cruise missile for "the preservation of a free state.") As for the logical usefulness of other arms towards that end, I leave the debate to other forums, as that begins to approach modern politics, which is verboten on TMP.
In the time in which the amendment was made, one need only remember that military arms were in fact quite commonly in the hands of citizens, and furthermore that the armed citizens were by definition potential members of "the militia." If you had a weapon, you were part of "the army." Also, recall that private merchant vessels might be armed with cannon and shot as a matter of common practice for defense against pirates— so even a small private sailing vessel could easily be armed with the same sort of weaponry as the fledgling Navy! Oh, perhaps not quite as many (after all, arms take up cargo space)… though no law prevented it. Imagine that state today. "Hey boss, we need to buy our own destroyer!" grin
Bizarre, if you think about it!

doc mcb14 Jan 2013 7:30 p.m. PST

The reserve militia or unorganized militia, also created by the Militia Act of 1903 which presently consist of every able-bodied man of at least 17 and under 45 years of age who are not members of the National Guard or Naval Militia.(that is, anyone who would be eligible for a draft). Former members of the armed forces up to age 65 are also considered part of the "unorganized militia" per Sec 313 Title 32 of the US Code. (Wikipedia)

This category is more "basic" than the militia at the time the Bill of Rights was written -- though of course the law and hence the militia varied state by state. In Virginia, the largest state in 1787 and the one whose own Bill of Rights George Mason (father of US BofR) had written, the militia was all free men, as per the unorganized militia today, but they WERE organized within the counties, with a county courts martial (all field grade officers in the county) having administrative control and commanded by the county lieutenant (personal rep of the governor). They mustered each month and were required by law to own a gun, which was inspected regularly. If an able-bodied man could prove indigent and so unable to afford a weapon, the county would provide one purchased by fines levied by the courts martial on men who did not muster properly equipped.

The militia did not drill, but was a system under which every free man was armed and responsible to a local authority operating under state law.

I think this is what "well regulated" was understood to mean when the 2nd Amendment was ratified.

Personal logo Parzival Supporting Member of TMP15 Jan 2013 6:21 a.m. PST

Good bit of research, Doc.

Alas, I'm too lazy to search for it, but one of the first laws passed by Congress required every U.S. citizen (at that time by definition male and free) to own a musket. It remained on the books as Federal law until the early 20th century. To me, that would indicate that your interpretation as to the thinking and origin of the amendment and its specific wording is correct.

MadDrMark11 Apr 2013 3:57 a.m. PST

I always find it funny to see Hamilton cited in favor of an unlimited right to bear arms. He was, after all, shot to death in a duel. He might personally have benefited from some tighter firearms regulations!

zoneofcontrol11 Apr 2013 5:37 a.m. PST

The militia did not drill, but was a system under which every free man was armed and responsible to a local authority operating under state law.

I think this is what "well regulated" was understood to mean when the 2nd Amendment was ratified.

This series of posts is timely. Just today, my daughter had to turn in a school project on the 2nd Ammendment. (The class project was the entire Constitution and groups of kids were assigned various individual ammendments to research.)

I believe the Supreme Court looks at a Right as being an individual right. Specifically, in the case of the 2nd, there need be no time of conflict nor service in a "militia" for the right to apply. Remember that they were not written as a listing of what is permissible to the people, but rather what is not permissible to the government.

As to what is allowable as addressed above, clubs, edged weapons, and firearms are all considered "arms." Private merchant vessels used to carry all of these and cannons as well. Somewhere along the lines, the courts have put into place a limit as to what is reasonable for a private citizen to own as an "arm." That's OK because I cannot fit an M1 or a F-22 into my garage. And my wife made me get rid of my chemical weapons stockpile when the kids started growing appendages out of the tops of their heads.

Jemima Fawr11 Apr 2013 5:58 a.m. PST

The US 'Unorganized Militia' sound like they might have been interesting to watch in battle (the term immediately brings to mind the time we deliberately stitched up a parade commander by doing the exact opposite of his orders).

The British 'Disembodied Militia' meanwhile take revenge on their foes from beyond the grave, while the Canadian 'Sedentary Militia' just crack open another Labatt's, yawn and switch on the hockey…

Buck21506 May 2015 6:44 p.m. PST

The TV Movie "An American Story" was based upon the battle of Athens, Tennessee…

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