1777, THE YEAR OF THE HANGMAN by John S. Pancake


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Intended partly to underscore the importance of the 1777 American victory over ""Gentleman Johnny"" Burgoyne in the Saratoga wilderness, this is a demandingly detailed, agreeably written examination of the political and military turning points of 1776-77 as a whole. Crediting the British troops as ""formidable,"" Pancake identifies the strategic weaknesses of their commanders which deprived the Crown of a decisive win by the start of 1777: along with ""incredible indolence,"" individual obsessions like General Howe's with Pennsylvania disrupted the chain of command, while any positive occupation policy was lacking. For his part, Washington also had difficulty getting orders through, which Pancake finds led to Gates' failure to deliver Howe another defeat in the Delaware Valley after the Saratoga debacle; but Washington gets high marks for his army-building and dispersal of the ""Conway cabal."" Dwelling on so-called ""geopolitics,"" Pancake's appraisals range from the upper New York terrain to the efficacy of Loyalist suppression in almost every colony; he also has an eye for psychology, as when he suggests that Gates' undistinguished appearance may have helped deprive him of the stature his Saratoga victory warranted. An epilogue properly locates the importance of that victory in its effects on the Franco-American alliance being negotiated in Paris, where Franklin commented on the simultaneous loss of the American capital: ""Philadelphia has taken Sir William Howe."" One ends the book wishing that Pancake (History, Univ. of Alabama) would provide further volumes on the war--after the torrent of Bicentennial studies, no small compliment.

Pub Date: June 26th, 1977
ISBN: 0817306870
Publisher: Univ. of Alabama Press