Colonel in the Pennsylvania Line, Samuel Miles was posted on the extreme left of the Rebel lines on the eve of the Battle of Brooklyn. His post was in a thickly wooded area on a glacial moraine called the Gowanas heights. Leading a regimental sized unit, Miles held the high ground but was forced to defend more ground than his 500 person unit could command.
When the British Army marched around their flanks unimpeded, fellow officers criticized Miles for his failure to detect the British and warn the remainder of the Rebel Army. Miles wrote the following justification of his actions while in captivity shortly after the conclusion of the battle. Miles claims to have informed his superiors of his situation but they ignored him which led to his inadequately resourced command left to cover to wide a territory.
In the end, there was no way that Miles could have defended his ground against the full weight of the British attack. It might have been possible for Miles to provide better intelligence and warn the other Continental Army units of the impending attack, but without cavalry, this was difficult. Miles did his duty but faced overwelming forces. Exchanged in 1778, he pledged not to take up arms against the British. However, he did perform quartermaster services for the Rebels, notably gathering boats and supplies for Washington’s march to Yorktown.
Personal honor was vitality important to Continental Army officers, so this is why Miles documented his actions. The orginal manuscript is in the Library of Congress. The document is fairly readable with only a few places of missing or incomprehensable words (noted by underlines).
November 17, 1776
On the 21st and 22nd of August the British troops landed on Long Island at a placed called _______, New Utrecht and advanced about 8 miles from the sea shore where the main body encamped consisting of the British troops, light horse. With some British troops, the Hessians encamped at a little village called Flatbush, about 6 miles from New Utrecht. The Highlanders and part of the British troops took up the ground between Flatbush and the water. This was the situation of the Enemy on the 22nd. ___ of my battalion were ordered over which I myself accompanied. We lay the first night within the lines. On Thursday the 23rd were ordered to advance and take the post on a road that leads from Flatbush to the Jamaica Road. I proceeded until I got within sight of Flatbush where the enemy were encamped. I then reconnoitered the ground for some distance and fixed on a spot for my encampment. A good deal of skirmishing this day and the next. On 25th the ____________on the 24, 25 and 26. I sent out several small parties to reconnoiter the situation of the enemy and from the best information I could get from the _________, I found the main body of the British Army encamped about between 2-3 miles to my left. Part of the Hessians and others _____ in my front in the village of Flatbush, the Highlanders and the rest of the army took up the ground between Flatbush and New Utrecht _____6 miles. This was the situation till the 26th. On the 25th, General Sullivan ______to my camp. I informed him of the enemy’s being encamped considerable way to my left and expected that proper steps would be taken to watch their motions. The same day I marched for some distance towards the enemy on my left, but being entirely unacquainted with the country and having no person with me better acquainted with it than myself, I returned without making any discovery, but sent a small party forward who went near the enemy discovered some of their guards and took a negro man prisoner. There were a number of troops stationed from my right to the waters’ edge in front of the enemy. Those were changed so often that I seldom knew for half a day together what troops were stationed with me or who was to take command in case of action. On the 26th in the morning Generals Putnam, Sullivan and Sterling paid me a visit. I again told the generals the situation of the enemy and begged they would endeavor to get some person who was acquainted with the country to serve as a guide. At the same time I informed General Putnam that I had formed a scheme of surprising the light horse
Which I intended putting into execution the next morning, which he heartily approved of. I then told General Sullivan who ________to relieve my ______ Reg. immediately, that I would remain there till next morning when if he released he might send a relief about 2 o’clock. I took a walk to a hill about half a mile to my right from which I had a view of the movement of the enemy the English troops that were encamped at Flatbush struck their tents and advanced to the main body. The Hessians and Highlanders took their ground. Thus the were situated in three divisions, here again having met with General Putnam, I informed him that I was fully convinced the principal body of the British Army were encamped on my left. He made me no answer but said he did not like the looks of the enemy. I returned from this place to my encampment where I expected to have received some orders expressing my conduct in case of an attack which every body who saw the movement of the enemy apprehended would be made the ensuing morning. The morning arrived and all was still and quiet round me, tho eve were alarmed by the firing of guns several times in the night. A want ____ General Putnam aid de camp appeared. I was truly glad to see him as I expected to Hear ___ some orders by him. But all that he had to inform us of, was that the enemy had began the attack upon our right. I then asked him if he had any orders for me. He said he had none. I told him as I had told the general before, that the principal body of the enemy were encamped upon my left. I ______ had march up what is called Jamaica Road that I would endeavor to get ahead of them. He approved of this but before I was ready to march, I heard a firing upon my right within as I apprehended who half a mile, immediately altered my dispassion and marched toward the _____ where I heard the firing, but had not got a quarter of mile till I fell in with Col Willis, who unhapplily for me bore a Continental commission. He of course was was my superior officer, his station was the same as my own, placed to defend a pass on a road through which there near the least probability of the enemies marching. Col. Willis stopped me, saying that our post was on that road and he must not leave it.
I endeavored to ____ him the improbability there was of the enemies marching along that road , as I was certain the main body of the army was marching up the Jamaica Road which was about three miles to my left and suggested that I might return and I would endeavor to get ahead of the main body of the army, this he at length consented to. I immediately marched off with my first battalion. Having the 2nd battalion to tie up their blankets ____ with orders to follow me as soon as possible. When I got within sight of the Jamaica road, I discovered that the army was already advanced some miles ahead and that I was entirely surrounded. I immediately sent Major Williams, who happened to be on horseback, back with orders to Col. Brodhead to march immediately toward our lines and endeavor to ____ get before the Hessians who I apprehended would march up what is called the Middle road This he did and I have not seen him since. I had some doubts in my own mind whether I should attack and endeavor to cut through the enemies rear guard or push forward and make the best of my way towards the lines, in order to determine this matter. I thought to take a ____ of the rad and advanced with the Reg. a considerable distance _________________________ I got so near that he could not make his escape and then demanded of him to surrender which he did. I immediately examined him with respect to the numbers of the rear guard with the baggage. He apprised me there was a whole brigade commanded by a general officer but his name he could not recollect. I thought this too large a body for me to attack with about 220 men. I might have remained here undiscovered until night and probably have escaped. But reflecting that there was still probability of cutting through to our lines, and that my reputation might suffer by a contrary conduct, I determined to make the attempt and accordingly marched off as fast as I could _____ the main body of the British Army on my right and the _____division which consisted principally of Hessians on my left. I continued in this situation about three miles when I _________________ed a party of ______- 100 men at as small distance. I order Col Peper ________ on my right formed upon by body of British troops which I had not before discovered. I immediately returned the fire but had not exchanged above three or four rounds when the Hessians began a fire on my left. Upon this the men broke and made the best of
Of their way towards our lines. Lt. Broadhead and three or four privates of Captain Farmers ___ continued with me until we were nearly surrounded and some of the enemy within twenty paces of us. Here an accident happen which distresses me much, as the enemy were advancing I was anxious to load as fast as possible for which purpose I clasp my powder horn into the muzzle of my rifle and kept it there as I supposed long enough to discharge a sufficient quantity of powder and then rammed down my ball after which I burned three or four time. But finding there was no powder under the ball, I halted in the first thicket I met with and there took the batch out of my gun, cleaned her and loaded her afresh. Here I collected about 12-14 men together and propose attempting to cut our way back to the _____ we were in, in the morning and from thense I had no doubt that I get through in the night to Hellsgate. But while I was pleasing myself with these reflections we were almost surrounded by a body of Hessians who fired several times into the thicket from which we were obliged to make the ___ of our way. We were ________ when we were fired upon by a large party of Hessians in endeavor to avoid them by altering our source but were again fired on. Here I returned the fire and killed one man but which ever way I turned my Reg. saw parties of Hessians _____ having by this time but 4 or 5 men with me I determined to endeavor to conceal myself which I did in thicket of______. For upwards of two hours but before too length being discovered I was obliged to submit to the mercy of the Hessian officers. I expected no quarters would be given but had the satisfaction to find that the reports spread of those people were ______ ___ kindness and generosity by the Hessian officers and soldiers, than we have experienced by and of the British troops.