On the sixteenth of November, Denisov’s squadron in Bagration’s detachment (Nikolai Rostov’s squadron) moves into action. It turns out that the squadron is kept in reserve, however, and even after victory at Wischau, Rostov feels deflated. Suddenly, however, the Emperor passes by, and Rostov’s melancholy mood instantly transforms. When the Emperor’s eyes meet Rostov’s for two seconds, Rostov feels as though Alexander must have read his soul in those brief moments. Later, after the regiment advances into Wischau, Rostov sees the Emperor again, tearful at the sight of a gravely wounded soldier. He tells Czartoryski, “What a terrible thing war is!”
Rostov persists in his youthful idealization of Emperor Alexander. For him, the Emperor is no earthly human being, but a godlike presence, Nikolai’s motivation for fighting and indeed for living. Ironically, Alexander seems to have a greater appreciation for the costs of war than Rostov himself does. While Alexander sees human suffering, Rostov’s gaze remains fixed on his hero.
The next few days, leading up to the battle of Austerlitz, are a bustle of activity. The events of the day before the battle are like the minutely tuned motions of a mechanical clock. Prince Andrei senses that Kutuzov is upset about what he’s been told at headquarters, so he asks Dolgorukov, who’s been charged with negotiations with Napoleon, what’s going on. Dolgorukov tells Andrei that Kutuzov wants to drag his feet, but that this is a foolish move while Napoleon is weak. Young men’s instincts are more trustworthy in such situations, he says, and he begins showing Prince Andrei the battle plan on a map. Prince Andrei starts showing Dolgorukov a better plan he has in mind, but Dolgorukov is not interested. On the way home, Kutuzov tells Prince Andrei that he believes the allies will lose.
The mechanical image of the clock symbolizes Tolstoy’s view that necessity, or fate, is a bigger factor in the outcomes of battles than human decisions are, the bustle of human effort notwithstanding. Dolgorukov’s optimism contrasts with the elderly Kutuzov’s pessimism. In fact, Dolgorukov seems more concerned about the vindication of his own opinion than the possibility of Andrei’s alternative. Youthful aggressive strategy contrasts with the more typically “Russian” restraint, with the implication that the Russian approach is wiser.
That evening, there’s a council of war, and all the column leaders are invited. Weyrother, chief of staff of the Austrian army, eagerly shows his battle plan while Kutuzov sits by sulkily. Prince Andrei enters the room about seven o’clock to tell Kutuzov that Prince Bagration isn’t coming, then he remains in the council. Kutuzov abruptly falls asleep.
Kutuzov is so resigned to the failure of the younger generals’ decision that he literally spends the council unconscious. There’s a sense that the younger generals, influenced by their European allies, will inevitably get their way, and that Russia’s fate will follow suit.
Undaunted, Weyrother begins reading aloud the complex battle plan. It takes more than an hour. The generals listen with varying degrees of absorption. When he’s done, others immediately begin making objections—like the fact that if Napoleon goes on the offensive, this whole plan will become useless. Weyrother remains confident, however, that Napoleon is weak and that if he meant to attack, he would have done so already. Andrei starts to voice an objection himself, whereupon Kutuzov suddenly wakes up, tells them all that the plan is set, and that it’s more important now to get a good night’s sleep. Prince Andrei leaves.
Weyrother’s plan exemplifies European-style strategy, in Tolstoy’s view—it’s long, complicated, and contains glaring holes that could readily undermine the plan, yet its authors are so committed to their brainstorm that they downplay objections. The nonchalance of some generals, plus Kutuzov’s resignation, suggests both that the plan will probably fail and that, ultimately, generals’ role is less important than their rank implies.
Prince Andrei feels disturbed. He doesn’t know who’s right, but it seems to him that many lives are being risked because some people have access to the sovereign while others don’t. He begins pondering the possibility of his own imminent death. He also imagines himself stating his opinions to Kutuzov and Weyrother and single-handedly leading a division to victory, then going on to replace Kutuzov as commander in chief. He admits to himself that he desires glory and others’ approval more than anything else—even more than he loves his family.
A perceptive observer, Andrei sees that human lives hinge on the Emperor’s favor, regardless of the merits of a given plan (Alexander dislikes Kutuzov and naturally favors the younger generals’ decision). Despite his growing realism about war, he also sees personal success in terms of glory on the battlefield. It’s the only part of his life where he sees potential for self-distinction and hence for meaning in life.
That night Rostov is with his hussar platoon on the picket line. He rides back and forth along the line, fighting to stay awake. Dreamily, he imagines encountering the emperor, gaining his trust, and distinguishing himself in Alexander’s presence. After drooping into sleep once more, Rostov is jolted awake by the sound of repeated cries from the enemy’s direction. He also sees fires flaring up along the French line. Now fully alert, he makes out what the enemy voices are crying: “Vive l’empereur!”
Though Andrei is older and more cynical than Rostov, both he and Nikolai have naïve, youthful dreams of glory on the eve of Austerlitz. But where Andrei’s involves personal glory, Nikolai longs most of all for the Emperor’s approval. French adulation of Napoleon wakes him up, as if to remind him that most young soldiers revere their rulers, and there’s nothing special about his dreams.
Rostov joins the generals and their adjutants, who have ridden up to see what’s going on. Prince Dolgorukov tells Prince Bagration that it’s surely just a ruse. Bagration is skeptical. He asks Rostov what he’s observed, and Rostov offers to lead his men over to see whether the French pickets are still there or if they’ve retreated. Bagration gives the order, and Rostov, thrilled, leads a few of his hussars toward the position. After confirming that the pickets are still there, Rostov, exhilarated, gets Bagration's permission to stay with his squadron as an orderly during the battle.
Prince Dolgorukov guesses correctly that the French are lighting fires and making noise in order to lure the allies into an attack, but Rostov has no way of knowing that yet. As far as Rostov is concerned, getting to stay with Bagration’s squadron during the battle is the perfect opportunity to make his dream come true.
The Russians saw a commotion among the French troops because Napoleon was riding through the ranks while his orders were being read. Napoleon himself will direct the battalions, and if the honor of the French infantry is at stake, Napoleon will enter the line of fire himself. He urges his men to remain determined to defeat “these mercenaries of England.”
Tolstoy gives a glimpse of the French perspective as well, here including Napoleon himself for the first time. Just like the Russians, the French revere their sovereign and see him as the embodiment of their cause more than any abstract ideal.