The Reluctant Patriot

(5 reviews)


Read the 4-star review by Ian Dailey on Foreword Reviews. 

In the early days of the American Civil War, Harry thought it was just a quarrel among politicians—until his young son ran away to join a guerilla raid against the Confederates. Within weeks, Harry himself was falsely accused of sabotage, tried in a rigged courtroom, and sentenced to hang for treason. Based on true events and the real life of Harrison Self, this is a tale of eastern Tennessee, where loyalty to the Union survived long after the state had seceded. At times evoking the diaries, humorous tales, and adventure narratives of the period, it is the story of a man for whom love of country was not a given, but the result of decisions forged under pressure. In the course of his war, he will lose a son, plumb a daughter’s love, and form a strange bond with the region’s most controversial figure, W. G. Brownlow. Unremarked by history, Harry experienced, firsthand, the serial betrayals and surprising loyalties of a bloody war on his doorstep. How he survived—and what he became—is a suspenseful and moving tale of a soul’s reformation.

For more info on The Reluctant Patriot, visit the book’s website at and/or the Facebook page at

SKU: 978-1-951547-10-3 Categories: , Tag:

Additional information

Publication Date

December 1, 2020


Paperback, Hardcover, eBook


978-1-951547-10-3, 978-1-951547-14-1, 978-1-951547-11-0


284 pages


5.5 x 8.5 inches

In the Media

Listen to Susan discuss the fascinating historical context of her book and read excerpts on YouTube.

5 reviews for The Reluctant Patriot


    This is a novel about a bridge burning, a trial, and a hanging. But it is also situated in Civil War Tennessee, which means that none of those events will occur according to any expectations of normal. The characters—from the Unionist Harrison Self to the dramatic Parson Brownlow—are all historical enough. But Susan Lohafer has given them a special edge, as they seek to make sense of a world that is breaking into pieces around them, where friends are foes and one wrong glance may be worth your life. It is a fast book, it is an unnerving book, it is a polished, shining book—all right then, it is a great book.

  2. Ben H. Severance — Professor of History, Auburn University at Montgomery

    Susan Lohafer’s historical novel about the notorious bridge-burning incident of 1861 in East Tennessee is an engaging and poignantly written story about the disruptive effects of war on a close-knit community. Scholarly accounts depict the episode as a relatively minor one in the larger panorama of the Civil War. Lohafer, however, expounds the event’s importance, presenting the bridge burnings as a pivotal moment for those directly involved, when the comforting routine of traditional farm life was abruptly and cruelly turned upside down. She centers her narrative on the real-life family of Harrison Self, a proud, pro-Union farmer who was implicated by Confederate authorities in the bridge burnings. In doing so, Lohafer crafts an eminently plausible tale of angst and heartbreak. Self, along with a host of other colorfully drawn characters, discovers that personal decisions made under wartime duress bring unintended consequences, which in turn call into question long cherished values. Harrison Self personifies this unfolding chaos as he loses control over his farm, his family, his very life. Readers will enjoy how Lohafer writes with an empathy that reveals both her understanding of the period and her respect for human complexity. Moreover, her novel shows that even seemingly insignificant events and people are every bit as integral to the Civil War saga as such great battles as Gettysburg or such great leaders as Lincoln. The Reluctant Patriot offers rich, literary insight into the minds of those Civil War-era Americans whose lives are otherwise left out of the pages of academic history.

  3. Martin Roper — author of GONE

    An exquisitely written love letter to America. Based on a true story, Lohafer gives us a moving account of the life of Harrison Self, a Tennessee farmer who, in an effort to save his child’s life, is unwittingly dragged into the American Civil War. This is the amazing story of a reluctant patriot in desperate times as he endures the horrors of prison life, and, in one gruesome episode, the brutal death by hanging of an innocent boy.

    Set during the Civil War in East Tennessee, this story is about the countless sacrifices made by ordinary people attempting to create a fairer society. In a novel full of compassion and humanity, we witness the occasion when black people, in fear of their lives, arrive to cast their votes for the first time, and the extraordinary show of solidarity from their white compatriots who act as human shields for their fellow men as they escort them safely to the polling station.

    In elegant and clear-sighted prose that brilliantly captures the speech of its time, this is a novel that is epic in its scope and local in its experience, making it a story of universal proportion. Accompanied by endnotes that expertly explain background and context, this is a book everyone should read, not only for its outstanding portrayal of life during America’s Civil War, but to better understand the complex issue of race in America today. More than anything, it is an essential reminder of something that is often not talked about—how decent Americans have always struggled to do the right thing and often at great personal cost.

  4. Annette B. — Reviewer, NetGalley

    I believe this story is meant to be character driven, but it takes some time to connect with any character.

    As the story begins, at first the character of Harry grasped me with the words, “Harry kept up his trade with both Rebels and Unionists, in the language they shared, of bushels and stone weights.” But the connection was lost quickly with some general descriptions of hand movement or such. The character development misses fullness. There is not much grasping about the character to connect with him from the start. And it’s hard to connect with the story, which progresses slowly with unknown direction.

    It takes some time to warm up to any character, for example Lizzie got my attention with her thoughts expressed in her letters, which is in the second part of the story.

    Once the story has some build up and you have a better understanding of the direction and got attached to some characters, then the story becomes interesting. But that happens in the second half.

    The writing is certainly of a promising writer.

  5. Dwina Willis — Reviewer, NetGalley

    If you are from Tennessee, you may have learned the eastern part of the state being pro-Union before and during the War Between the States. In The Reluctant Patriot, Susan Lohafer takes the true story of Harrison Self, his friends and neighbors from Greene County, and weaves the tale of the burning of five railroad bridges in East Tennessee and the retaliation from the Confederates. Harrison did not think the bridge burning was a good idea, but he went to the meeting to find his sixteen-year-old son, Hugh. He didn’t want his son to be part of this. Harrison was captured, tried for the crime, and spent several years in prison.

    The book itself is not long, but Lohafer includes her notes and links the phrases in her novel to the research and comments. That provides another layer of material and richness to the story. I was allowed to read this book on #netgalley.

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