Did you ever hear the story of returning war veterans taking up arms against a corrupt political machine in the state of Tennessee?

I had never heard this story before today. It took place in McMinn County, Tenn. back in 1946.


A wealthy family had seized political control of the county in the 1930's. Paul Cantrell was elected Sheriff in 1936, 38 and 40. He was elected to the State Senate in 1942 and 1944, and his Chief Deputy Pat Mansfield was elected the the office of Sheriff.

The U.S. Justice Department received multiple complaints of election fraud from citizens  in the 1940, 1942, and 1944 elections. The complaints were never answered.

It was common for deputies to intimidate voters, tamper with ballot boxes, and beating people that spoke out. They would also ticket, and arrest people under false charges for financial gain.

World War II veterans returned home and were disgusted by the tyrannical establishment, and how the people of their communities had been treated. So, in 1946 they fielded their own non-partisan candidates and got involved to make sure there was a fraud free election. They called themselves the GI Non-Partisan League.

Cantrell was now running for Sheriff, and Mansfield was seeking election to the Senate.

August 1, 1946 Sheriff Mansfield brought in 200 deputies to detain and beat ex-G.I. poll watchers.  These "deputies" were also sent to confiscate the ballot boxes and take them back to the courthouse for counting. This was a violation of Tennessee state law, as ballots were to be counted in full view of the public.

The outraged ex-G.I.'s, along with many of the county's citizens, armed themselves with weapons and ammunition from the local armory to obtain the ballot boxes and prevent election fraud by the tyrannical government. This incident became known as "The Battle of Athens".

The veterans, nor the citizens were ever charged with a crime for their armed revolt to the government tyranny. (All of the arms that were borrowed from the armory were cleaned and returned before sunrise.)

In the end, the G.I. Non-partisan league candidates were victorious, and the rule of law had been restored to McMinn County, Tenn. A movie was created depicting the story, and we found an abbreviated version on YouTube.