Gun Laws & Legislation

Guns & Politics: The Battle Of Athens, Tennessee

Susan Smith Columnist

As we watch the formerly magnificent United States of America slide, inexorably, into decline, we wonder if this destruction from within, as rapid and lethal as it has been, could be corrected.  Too many say no, it has never been done and never can be done.

They would be wrong.

The time was 1946, and the place was Athens, Tennessee.  The American GI’s, who had spent years fighting against Hitler’s Germany and the Japanese Empire, and survived, started coming home to the sleepy little Southern town, population 7,600 people,  they knew and loved.

They received a nasty surprise.

While the soldiers, now veterans, were gone and performing the most honorable of duties, those who stayed behind perpetrated what we know now as a classic democrat party operation, and in the most corrupt and underhanded of ways, took over Athens.

A wealthy local democrat named Paul Cantrell decided to use his family power and political connections to run for and win the position of sheriff of the town.  Though it was obvious to the citizenry of Athens this victory had not been achieved by legal means, they thought they had no way of negating the outcome and so did nothing.

The newly anointed Sheriff Cantrell, thus ennerved, moved forward to solidify his power by (among other ways): engineering the redistricting of the county in which Athens was located, McMinn County, so that all opposition to Cantrell would be silenced;  ensuring that all votes, during the next five subsequent elections for Sheriff were counted in secret by his men at the county jail;  refusing to use voting machines offered to the county and insisting on hand counting ballots to “save the county money;” and making sure that Cantrell’s deputy was elected to the position of Sheriff once former Sheriff Cantrell arranged for his own self to be elected to the state legislature.

All this activity and effort on the part of Cantrell and his compatriots took an awful lot of effort and money, so the democrats in charge felt they needed to come up with a way to “create extra income” for themselves.  Anything that received the approval of the Sheriff, by way of a signature, was fine, and legal, and so they went for broke.

A steady flow of arrests, of just about anyone who moved in Athens, (just not anyone who was a compatriot of the Sheriff’s, of course), started occurring, and of course the only way to get yourself out of jail was to pay the hefty fines demanded by the Cantrell regime.  Pretty soon the group started stopping and boarding buses that just happened to be passing through town and arresting everyone on board for “drunkenness.”  You can imagine the fine each one of those poor innocent bus passengers had to pay to get out of jail.

This empowered group of Cantrellites kept progressing in their efforts to shore up power, this time by colluding with bootleggers and allowing all related illegal activity to go unchecked.  It had come to such a point of lawlessness in Athens for the regular, law-abiding, citizens, that no one who wasn’t a part of the thoroughly corrupt administration could make a move in that formerly peaceful Southern town.

Then the Greatest Generation started to come home.

They quickly decided not to accept being harassed, abused, arrested and fined for simple acts like going out for a drink together, so they decided to do something about it.  They started, as they presumed they were supposed to do, with the legal means of creating a slate of candidates for the elected positions owned by Cantrell and his cronies.  That all seemed to work until election day, when poll watchers appointed by the GI’s were not only arrested and jailed without cause, but one of them was attacked and thrown through a glass door.

As if that weren’t enough, an elderly black farmer, innocent of the goings on, named Tom Gillespie stepped into a precinct to cast his vote and was stopped by one of Cantrell’s goons.  He was told by this member of the democrat party faithful: “You can’t vote here, nigger. “ The Cantrell appointed thug then took out some brass knuckles and a gun and proceeded to beat up and then shoot Mr. Gillespie when he was attempting to run out the door, clearly wishing he had never had the idea to vote in that election.

The veterans had enough.  They went home and returned with “pistols, shotguns and whatever weapons they could lay their hands on.”  Though Cantrell and his minions had recruited extra deputies from neighboring cities and counties to help them in their suppression efforts, they were no match for the veterans and their weapons, now joined by the majority of the beleaguered citizens of Athens.

It was said by an eyewitness of the event: “Twenty-five deputys (sic) retreated to the jail which was surrounded and fired upon by the civilian army. “  By 4:00 AM the next morning, the “25 surrendered their arms and came out with hands up.  Although a cry went up to hang ‘em, cooler heads prevailed (and they) were taken to the edge of town, tied to trees, stripped naked and told not to come back.”  They didn’t.

Despite this effort on the part of the veterans and the citizens, Cantrell was still winning the election, as he had retained control of the precincts.  He ordered that they close early, due, he said, to the “recent violence,” and arranged to have his men transport the ballots to the county jail to be counted in secret.

Then Bill White, an Athenian and sergeant who had fought in the Pacific Theater, said the following to the men who were fighting the good fight:

“You call yourselves GI’s?!

You go over there and fight for three and four years…you come back and you let a bunch of draft dodgers who stayed here where it was safe, and you were making it safe for them, push you around?

If you people don’t stop this, and now is the time and place, you people wouldn’t make a…”

(something quite vulgar), but the point was made.  Successfully.

White and a few others raided the National Guard Armory, armed themselves and marched to the county jailhouse, where Cantrell and the few men he had left were barricaded inside.  When the democrats inside the jail did not respond to a polite (well, sort of) request from White and his compatriots to come out with the ballot boxes, the veterans erupted in a “barrage of gunfire.”   While that proved ultimately ineffective, White and his men, later the next morning, found a “healthy supply of dynamite,” which did the trick.  Cantrell’s man surrendered without further ado, (though the cowardly Cantrell and his chief deputy did escape in an ambulance), and the siege was over with no further harm done to anyone – with one notable exception.

The man who beat and shot Tom Gillespie received, as it was reported, “a vicious beatdown.”

The GI slate of candidates not only won, but they immediately started returning “many of the excess fees” that Cantrell’s regime had imposed upon Athens’ citizens.  There were no casualties on either side in the Battle of Athens, and  only charges that were brought against anyone involved in this remarkable affair were against “Tom Gillespie’s shooter.”

This is an event that could occur only in America.  The individual determination, efforts and responsibility that occurred in Athens by the returning GI’s were uniquely American; tragically, as demonstrated in the current left in power, so were the corruption, greed and cowardice on the part of the Obama-like figures who tried so hard to destroy Athens.

Let us hope that the right kind of America, as demonstrated by the Athenians in Tennessee in 1946, wins in America.