Wharton's command, and were attacked d by it furiously. The struggle lasted but a short time. The havoc in the enemy's ranks was terrible. Colonel Wharton reports to me 211 as the dead and wounded of the enemy. I understand that more than 80 bodies were buried on the field.
The enemy appeared with a flag of truce, asking to bury their dead and to remove their wounded. I refused; but hearing, after about an hour, that some officer had allowed it, and that the enemy were then engaged in burying, I directed Brigadier-General Williams to permit the ambulances of the enemy to pass along my right, for the purpose of carrying away their wounded also. There was no further battle.
I waited for news from Brigadier-General heth, or to learn of his approach to Princeton, as the signal for a general engagement with the enemy. If Brigadier-General Heth had successfully attacked at the mouth of East River in the morning, as requested to do, he might be hourly expected to communicate his approach to Princeton by his couriers or his artillery. If he had not attacked, but was still at the mouth of Wolf Creek, it would be imprudent in me to assail the enemy, for the probability was strong that he would hazard the assault himself against my position, attempting to beat me while he preserved his front against Heth. If General Heth could, by means of my diversion, get through The Narrows of New River our forces should join the night of the 17th, and then, combined, we could fight on the 18th the whole force of the enemy, and, if successful, could pursue his vanquished column to Raleigh, burn his stores, and press our advantage so far as we desired. This was my reasoning. I would not move upon the town in the evening of the 17th because the result would then be problematical, and that problem would likely be solved favorably by the arrival of General Heth's command. A grand result would then be easily obtained. had I attacked under the circumstances and had I failed nothing could have shielded me from condemnation as a rash officer who imperiled all and lost all when a few more hours would have doubled his force.
I confidently expected at night-fall on the 17th that the enemy, in superior force, would attack me in the morning, or that a junction with General Heth would enable me to attack his whole force, which was apparently concentrating around Princeton. He was in plain view under my glass; his wagons deliberately parked; his regiments exercising, and all the appearances given which indicate the purpose to give battle. my force was masked to him. He could have no idea of its amount. In this fact was my safety until heth could come up. It seems Brigadier-General Heth did advance to the mouth of East River and found the enemy had abandoned tents and camp equipage both there and at French's, where he had been fortifying. The general passed on until he came within 4 or 5 miles of Princeton, on the evening of the 17th, when, hearing in the country from somebody that I had been repulsed and was retreating, he fell back in the night to the mouth of East River.
His courier arrived at my position, 1 mile from the Court-House, about 9 a. m. on the 18th, conveying to me the information that General Heth's force was now so required in another direction as to forbid farther pursuit of the enemy, with the request to return Colonel Wharton to a post in the district of New River indicated by the general commanding said district.
The enemy dad during the night vacated Princeton, taking the Raleigh road, his rear passing blue Stone River about sunrise. I ordered my battalion of Mounted Rifles to follow him.