All these preparations were completed with extraordinary despatch. The consul Gn. Julius was left in charge of the defences of the City; L. Julius, the Master of the Horse, took command of the reserves to meet any sudden emergency, and to prevent operations from being delayed through inadequacy of supplies at the front.
As the war was such a serious one, the Dictator vowed, in the form of words prescribed by the Pontifex Maximus, A. Cornelius, to celebrate the Great Games if he were victorious.
He formed the army into two divisions, one of which he assigned to the consul Quinctius, and their joint force advanced up to the enemies' position.
As they saw that the hostile camps were separated by a short distance from each other, they also formed separate camps, about a mile from the enemy, the Dictator fixing his in the direction of Tusculum, the consul nearer Lanuvium.
The four armies had thus separate entrenched positions,
with a plain between them broad enough not only for small skirmishes, but for both armies to be drawn out in battle order.
Ever since the camps had confronted each other there had been no cessation of small fights, and the Dictator was quite content for his men to match their strength against the enemy, in order that through the issues of these contests they might entertain the hope of a decisive and final victory. The enemy, hopeless of winning a regular battle, determined to stake everything on the chances of a night attack on the consul's camp.
The shout which suddenly arose not only startled the consul's outposts and the whole army, but even woke the Dictator.
Everything depended on prompt action; the consul showed equal courage and coolness; part of his troops reinforced the guards at the camp gates, the rest lined the entrenchments. As the Dictator's camp was not attacked, it was easier for him to see what had to be done. Supports were at once sent to the consul under Sp. Postumius Albus, lieutenant-general, and the Dictator in person with a portion of his force made for a place away from the actual fighting, from which to make an attack on the enemy's rear.
He left Q. Sulpicius, lieutenant-general, in charge of the camp, and gave the command of the cavalry to M. Fabius, lieutenant-general, with orders not to move their troops before daylight, as it was difficult to handle them in the confusion of a night attack.
Besides taking every measure which any other general of prudence and energy would have taken under the circumstances, the Dictator gave a striking instance of his courage and generalship, which deserves especial praise, for, on ascertaining that the enemy had left his camp with the greater part of his force, he sent M. Geganius with some picked cohorts to storm it.
The defenders were thinking more of the issue of their comrades' dangerous enterprise than of taking precautions for their own safety, even their outposts and picket-duty were neglected, and he stormed and captured the camp almost before the enemy realised that it was attacked.
When the Dictator saw the smoke —the agreed signal —he called out that the enemy's camp was taken, and ordered the news to be spread everywhere.