A mass of correspondence fell into my hands. Letters and orders, dated from May 10 down to May 16, fully disclosed the intentions of the enemy and his strength. I send you several of these for your perusal.
I learned from the inhabitants of Princeton that on the morning of the 15th two regiments, about 900 men each, had passed through town toward East River, and that two regiments had been expected to arrive at 8 p. m. from Raleigh the very evening I came. I had a knowledge that one or more regiments had passed on the the mouth of East River, by the road from Dunlap's, without coming through Princeton. Combining the information I had, from the letters captured, with the news I received from the people of Princeton, I learned that I was in the neighborhood of at least four regiments, of which General heth had no knowledge. My own position had suddenly become very critical.
I had only heard from Colonel Wharton that he had not passed East River Mountain on the morning of the 15th. He had not arrived at Princeton on the night of the 16th, as I had directed and desired. I did not know the direction in which General Cow had retired, whether to East River of Raleigh, but whether in the one or the other direction I had no assurance but that the morrow would find me struggling with my force, more than half of whom were undrilled recruits, against largely superior numbers of well-trained troops of every arm.
Casting about us as well as I could at night to catch an idea of the topography, I found that the ruins of Princeton occupy a knoll in the center of some open, level meadows, entirely surrounded by woodlands, with thick undergrowth which fringe the open grounds, and that through the entire circuit about the town the central position at the Court-House can be commanded by the Enfield rifle. Roads lead in through these woods in several directions.
My men had marched 19 miles during the day, had slept none, and were scattering among the houses and tents to discover what had been left by the enemy.
I at once determined to withdraw from the ruins before dawn and to take position within range of the town site, so as to cover the road by which I entered. This I effected; the dawn finding me in the act of completing the operation. My force was masked from the town.
After daylight I received a dispatch from Colonel Wharton, dated the 16th, at the Cross-Roads, 11 miles from Princeton, promising to come to town by 9 a. m. on the 17th. Before he arrived the enemy had reentered the town, a force I could not estimate, but which was provided with artillery, and displayed more than two full regiments. Colonel Wharton arrived in the neighborhood, by the road leading from the Cross-Roads, a little after 9 a. m.
The enemy was at the time throwing forward his skirmishers to dispute with mine the woods and points overhanging the road which led in from the Cross-Roads to Princeton, which road ran nearly parallel to the one by which I had advanced. I had written to Colonel Wharton to press on and he would have the enemy in flank. The colonel opened with his single piece of artillery a little after 9 o'clock upon my right, and the batteries in town and at my position at once opened upon each other at long range. Colonel Wharton soon came to me to report his position and force. The force was about 800 men. Me estimate is I now had some 2,800 men, of whom one-half were raw recruits.
A regiment of the enemy, coming down from the direction of the Cross-Roads to Princeton about this time, appeared in the rear of Colonel