All Crossed over. They there followed Decius as he moved through the intervals between the pickets.
They had already got as far as the centre of the Samnite lines when a soldier striding over the bodies of the sleeping sentinels made a noise by striking his shield against one of them. The sentinel awakened by the sound shook the one next him; they both jumped up and aroused others, not knowing whether friends or foes were amongst them, whether it was Decius' force breaking out or the consul capturing the camp.
As they were no longer unobserved, Decius ordered his men to raise a shout, which paralysed the half-awakened sleepers with terror.
In their confusion they were unable to seize their arms promptly and could neither offer any resistance nor follow up their assailants.
While the Samnites were in this state of confusion and panic, the Romans, cutting down all who opposed them, made their way in the direction of the consul's camp.
A considerable portion of the night still remained and they were evidently now in safety. Decius addressed them: ‘All honour to you, brave Romans!
Your march up that height and your return will be extolled in every age But for the due recognition of such courage the light of day is needed; you have deserved something more than to carry your glory back to camp hidden in the silence of the night.
We will rest here and wait for the daylight.’ They rested accordingly. As soon as it was light and the news was sent on to the consul in camp, there was great excitement and rejoicing, and where it was officially announced throughout the camp that the men who saved the army at the risk of their own lives had themselves returned safe and sound, they all poured out in crowds to meet them, showered congratulations upon them, gave thanks and praise to the gods, and extolled Decius to the skies.
He marched through the camp in what amounted to a triumphal procession with his small force fully armed. Every eye was fixed upon him; the military tribune was treated with as much distinction as if he had been a consul.
When he reached the headquarters' tent, the consul ordered the Assembly to be sounded.
He was beginning to give Decius the praise he had so well earned, before the whole army, when Decius interrupted him and begged him to postpone those proceedings in view of the splendid opportunity which they now had in their hands.
He accordingly dismissed the parade and followed Decius' advice, which was to attack the enemy before they had recovered from their nocturnal panic and were still stationed round the height in separate detachments; some who had been sent in pursuit were believed to be still defiling through the pass.
The legions were ordered to arm for battle and were conducted by a more open route towards the enemy, as scouting parties had brought back fuller information about the locality. The attack was sudden and unexpected; the Samnites were everywhere in scattered bodies, most of them without arms, unable to secure their weapons or get into any compact formation or retire within their entrenchments. They were first driven in panic into their camp, there the camp itself was rushed and captured.
The shouting rolled round the height and the detachments who had been posted to watch it fled from a foe whom they had not yet seen. Those who had fled panic-struck into their camp —some 3o,ooo —were all slain.