Thinking of vengeance, Prince Andrey pursues Anatole to Petersburg but finds his rival has eluded him by joining the army in Moldavia. Meeting Kutuzov in Petersburg, Andrey agrees to accompany his suite to Moldavia, where the general is to take over the command. By this time, however, Anatole has returned to Moscow.
After a brief stay with Kutuzov, Prince Andrey asks to be transferred to the western forces now campaigning in Bucharest. Kutuzov sends him with a commission to Barclay de Tolly. Andrey goes home for a visit, amazed to find Bleak Hills so unchanged after the three eventful years in his own life. He finds a household divided into two hostile camps: his father and Mlle. Bourienne on one side; Princess Marya, Nikolushka, and the nurses on the other. When Andrey defends his sister on one occasion, his father orders him out of the house. Andrey mourns Marya's sufferings, and his father's guilt, of which the stubborn old man is aware, and Andrey wonders what still drives him to seek out Anatole to be further sneered at or perhaps killed. Life seems to Prince Andrey a series of"senseless phenomena following one another without any connection."
In June he reaches Barclay de Tolly's army, and lacking as yet a specific post, Andrey observes the various factions within the high command. Since the emperor is attached to de Tolly's army (Generals Tormasov and Bagration command the other two armies) several parties cluster around Alexander, four of which deserve mention here. One consists of Germans, like Wintzengerode and Pfuhl, who, as rigid military theorists, believe in the science of warfare. Another party favors direct spontaneous action rather than theoretically devised plans. The third group, mainly courtiers, wish to reconcile the first two. Finally, there is the large number of place seekers comprising the fourth party, men guided by selfish motives who chase medals, crosses, promotions.
Accepting the tsar's invitation, Bolkonsky attends the war council and finds the discussions reminiscent of those preceding the Austerlitz campaign four years before. A science of war does not exist, he thinks to himself, for no one can predict the moral strength of the soldiers at the moment of battle. As the generals talk with awe about Napoleon's"genius," Andrey recalls with amusement the smugness of the little man who inspected the dead and wounded men at Austerlitz. An effective leader, decides Bolkonsky, must lack genius; with a narrow outlook a man can work through many conflicting impressions which would confuse a more thoughtful man. A military leader endowed with pedestrian intelligence would be more likely to have the patience required to carry out his plans. At the end of the council, Alexander asks Andrey where he desires to serve. Bolkonsky wishes to be sent to the front.
When Nikolay Rostov learns of Natasha's broken engagement, he is glad of the excuse to be detained with his army because of the coming campaign. Writing to Sonya, he promises to marry her when he comes home again. Rostov's squadron is ordered to the attack long before dawn. Nikolay rides with Ilyin, a young officer who hero-worships him as he himself once admired Denisov. As the galloping hussars drive against the French dragoons, Rostov feels the same freedom and excitement that he felt when coursing the wolf. Overtaking a Frenchman, Nikolay raises his sword and then confronts the frightened gaze of his foe. Rostov trembles before his prisoner's fear of being killed; he cannot imagine committing such a crime. Suddenly he is overwhelmed by doubts as to the meaning of war, the meaning of men's lives, the meaning of bravery.
Because he has taken a prisoner, Nikolay later receives the cross of St. George for being an officer of dauntless courage.
In these chapters, Tolstoy follows the earlier pattern of Book II when he paralleled the actions of Bolkonsky and Rostov during the Schöngraben campaign. Both men have undergone a change in attitude since then, and we can measure this change by noting how their present points of view draw close together.
Prince Andrey now realizes that heroism takes place at the battlefront when a man is able to confront and overcome death through his own actions and not by commanding other men according to an abstract grand scheme. Nikolay, who has accepted his lot as part of the universal order designed by his superiors — even though this may involve getting killed — now discovers that"the enemy" consists of men like himself who fear death. With this insight, both protagonists have discovered a sense of individual morality that can only be acted out according to an individual responsibility.
When Andrey asks the tsar to send him to the front, thereby losing his chance for achievement in the world of the court, he is stating the central truth in his life: A human being has a unique value in the harmonious scheme of the universe that is proved when he can face death to fulfill and define his life.
Nikolay's moment of truth occurs when he raises his sword against his enemy and hesitates, trembling, at the enormity of taking a life so like his own. The glorious gallop against the faceless enemy, reminiscent of that carefree race after the wolf, suddenly has moral consequences Nikolay must consider. No longer ruled by a corpsman's sense of duty alone, he must now answer to his conscience as well.
Compared with Rostov's and Bolkonsky's awareness of individual worth, Napoleon's sense of values is as undeveloped as a child's. Like Nikolay's wolf hunt, his desire to conquer Russia is a glorious game that has no significance except to feed his own self-image. This is the point where Tolstoy draws together the divergent parts of the two-leveled story and foreshadows some ultimate conclusions. As individual characters begin to participate in the large affairs of a global war, we see how they derive their life's meanings through the challenge of historic necessity. Napoleon, however, who tries to play with history in a game to further his self-glorification, never recognizes life's necessities. This fatal misunderstanding provides his downfall.