It’s October, 1805. Russian troops are stationed near the fortress of Braunau, Austria, creating a burden for local villagers. Commander in chief Kutuzov has his headquarters here. On the 11th, an infantry regiment halts outside of town, awaiting Kutuzov’s review. The battalion commanders aren’t sure whether Kutuzov wants to see the regiment in parade uniform or not, so they decide it’s better to be safe than sorry—meaning that the soldiers, exhausted from a 20-mile march, must stay up all night mending and cleaning their uniforms.
Now that the story’s prominent families have been introduced, Part 2 of Volume 1 shifts to the battlefield for the first time. In particular, the story focuses not primarily on high-ranking officers, but on the experiences of ordinary infantry soldiers—those who bore the biggest burden of marching, fighting, and in this case, fulfilling their superiors’ sometimes unpredictable demands.
The next morning, 2,000 soldiers wait in sparkling good order. Belatedly, an adjutant arrives from headquarters to report that the commander in chief wants to see the soldiers in marching conditions, not parade uniform. Kutuzov has been ordered to march the regiment to a position he considers to be ill-advised, so he’d hoped the men would look convincingly bedraggled, thus changing the general’s mind. The men hurriedly change into their dirty marching uniforms.
Tolstoy humorously captures some of wartime’s unpredictable realities, including the fact that even a commander in chief like Kutuzov sometimes feels constrained by superiors’ demands—and that, as the most powerful figure, he depends on the much larger number beneath him to achieve his goals (a point Tolstoy argues regarding history in general).
Commander in chief Kutuzov and an Austrian general arrive in an elegant Viennese coach. Kutuzov walks among the troops, pointing out their pitiful boots to the Austrian. A suite of about 20 men follows Kutuzov, with Prince Andrei Bolkonsky walking nearest. At one point, Prince Andrei steps forward to remind Kutuzov about the demoted officer Dolokhov. Hearing his name, Dolokhov steps forward, saying he wants a chance to wipe out his guilt and prove his devotion. Kutuzov doesn’t respond. Then the regiment breaks up into companies to seek lodging and rest.
Kutuzov’s luxury contrasts with the soldiers’ rough conditions. Nonetheless, Kutuzov uses his inferiors’ bedraggled state to try to gain an advantageous position for his army. Prince Andrei, last seen at Bald Hills, closely assists Kutuzov (a sign of his own social standing). Dolokhov, last seen goofing around with Pierre and the Kuragins in Petersburg, has been demoted for his antics there and hopes to redeem himself.
As the third company walks toward its quarters, the regimental commander questions the company captain, Timokhin, about Dolokhov’s behavior. Timokhin explains that Dolokhov occasionally becomes “a beast,” but the regimental commander pities the well-connected young man and lets Dolokhov know that when he serves in his first action, he’ll be rewarded with epaulettes. The rest of the soldiers chatter spiritedly, exchanging rumors about Bonaparte, and the company soon breaks into marching songs.
Dolokhov’s social connections spare him from consequences for his misbehaviors, and he’s even promised new decorations (implying he’ll be promoted) after his first battle. With the other soldiers in good spirits, the overall mood is hopeful—no one has yet gotten a real taste of battle, and war mostly offers opportunities for personal advancement and adventure so far.
Back from the review, Kutuzov and the Austrian general study a map. There are rumors that the Austrian army lost their recent battle, and Kutuzov doubts that the Austrians really need Russian help at this point. Kutuzov turns to Prince Andrei and orders him to prepare a report on all that’s known about the Austrian army’s actions. Though many find Andrei pompous, Kutuzov has quickly taken notice of him, thinking him promising and admirable.
Kutuzov has a conservative temperament in battle, something that will characterize his decisions throughout the wars—he hesitates to spend Russian lives unless he’s convinced it will benefit Russia. Prince Andrei is already making his mark with Kutuzov, meaning he could have a promising career on military staff instead of fighting.
Before Prince Andrei can leave headquarters, a bandaged Austrian general hurriedly enters in search of Kutuzov. The flustered newcomer says in a trembling voice, “You are looking at the unfortunate [General] Mack.” A tremor crossing his face, Kutuzov allows Mack into his office and shuts the door. The rumor of Austrian defeat, including the surrender of the entire Austrian army at Ulm, is true.
Baron Karl Freiherr Mack von Liebereich was an Austrian general who, along with his 30,000 men, surrendered to Napoleon at Ulm, Prussia, without a fight. It was the beginning of the Austrian army’s downfall and that of the entire Third Coalition against Napoleon. The disastrous loss at Ulm means that the Russians will soon have to face the French for themselves.
Prince Andrei understands the military implications of this development better than most, and he feels excited as he considers the Russian army’s difficult position and the role he might play. At the same time, he both fears Bonaparte and doesn’t want to see his hero defeated. On his way to write to his father, Andrei runs into his friend Zherkov, a hussar from Kutuzov’s suite. Some Austrian officers squeeze past them in the corridor, and Zherkov jokingly congratulates them on the disgraced Mack’s arrival. Prince Andrei, enraged, reprimands Zherkov. He explains to his startled roommate Nesvitsky that only “schoolboys” behave like that when an ally’s army has been slaughtered.
Prince Andrei’s reactions to the news are conflicted. It’s an opportunity for personal glory, and, on the other hand, he still idealizes Bonaparte as a general and doesn’t want to be disillusioned about him. In other words, his attitude about war is still mostly theoretical. A hussar, like Zherkov, is a cavalryman—one who fights on horseback. Zherkov makes light of the Austrian loss, which offends Prince Andrei’s high ideals about war.