Brigadier General Billy Mitchell was born in France on December 28, 1879. By 1921, he’d become chief of the Army Air Service. After seeing the potential military impact of aircraft during World War I, he wanted to demonstrate how planes could be used to quell civil unrest at home.
The West Virginia mine wars provided him with an ample opportunity. On August 25, 1921, armed miners began their long march culminating in the Battle of Blair Mountain in Logan County. Billy Mitchell arrived in Charleston the next day and ordered the 88th Squadron—part of the 1st Provisional Air Brigade—to southern West Virginia. Mitchell’s planes were used solely for reconnaissance. Many got lost, and one crashed in Nicholas County—located in the opposite direction from Logan.
Mitchell’s planes remain a confusing part of the mine wars story because Don Chafin, the Logan County sheriff, hired his own pilots to drop makeshift bleach and shrapnel bombs on the miners. Although Mitchell’s planes never dropped bombs, Blair Mountain holds the distinction of being the only time in U.S. history when law enforcement used planes to bomb American civilians.