They all passed over, and followed Decius as he proceeded through the intervals which lay between the guards.
They had now passed the middle of the camp, when a soldier, striding over the bodies of the watchmen as they lay asleep, occasioned a noise by striking one of their shields.
When the watchman, being aroused by this, stirred the next one to him, and those who were awake stirred up others, not knowing whether they were friends or foes, whether it was the garrison that sallied forth or the consul had taken their camp; Decius, having ordered the soldiers to raise a shout, as they were no longer unobserved, disheartens them by panic whilst still heavy from sleep, by which being
perplexed, they were neither able to take arms briskly, nor make resistance, nor to pursue them.
During the trepidation and confusion of the Samnites, the Roman guard, slaying such of the guards as came in their way, reached the consul's camp. A considerable portion of night still remained, and things now appeared to be in safety; when Decius says, “Roman soldiers, be honoured for your [p. 493]
Your journey and return ages shall extol. But to behold such bravery light and day are necessary; nor do you deserve that silence and night should cover you, whilst you return to the camp with such distinguished glory. Here let us wait in quiet for the daylight.”
His words they obeyed. And as soon as it was day, a messenger being despatched to the camp to the consul, they were aroused from sleep with great joy; and the signal being given by ticket, that those persons returned safe who had exposed their persons to evident danger for the preservation of all, rushing out each most anxiously to meet them, they applaud them, congratulate them, they call them singly and collectively their preservers, they give praises and thanks to the gods, they raise Decius to heaven.
This was a sort of camp triumph for Decius, who proceeded through the middle of the camp, with his guard fully armed, the eyes of all being fixed on him, and all giving him equal honour with the consul.
When they came to the general's tent, the consul summons them by sound of trumpet to an assembly; and commencing with the well-earned praises of Decius, he adjourned the assembly on the interposition of Decius himself,
who advising the postponement of every thing else, whilst the occasion was still present, persuaded the consul to attack the enemy, whilst still in consternation from the panic of the night, and dispersing in separate detachments around the hill, [adding] that he believed that some who had been sent out in pursuit of him where straggling through the forest.
The legions were ordered to take arms; and having departed from the camp, as the forest was now better known by means of scouts, they are led onwards to the enemy through a more open tract.
Having unexpectedly attacked the enemy when off their guard, since the soldiers of the Samnites straggling in every direction, most of them unarmed, were not able either to rally, nor to take arms, nor to betake themselves within the rampart, they first drive them in a panic into the camp: then they take the camp itself, having dislodged the guards.
The shout spread around the hill; and puts each to flight from their respective posts. Thus a great part yielded to an enemy they had not seen. Those whom the panic had driven within the rampart (they amounted to thirty thousand) were all slain; the camp was plundered.