Pierre visits Andrew, who explains to him the folly of the military commanders and the unpredictability of war. Cynical about war in a general sense, Andrew still foresees a Russian victory at Borodino the next day. That night, he thinks of Natasha with longing.
In Napoleon’s quarters, the French emperor is finishing his toilette and preparing for the battle on the Russian front. He receives a portrait of his son as a gift. He sends an inspirational proclamation to the troops, and then inspects the battle site, sending out meticulously detailed instructions as to the deployment of troops. The narrator says that none of these orders were ultimately followed during the battle. Mocking the theory that Napoleon did not win at Borodino because he had a cold, the narrator again muses that history is made by ordinary men following their own will.
The next morning, Pierre awakens to the sounds of battle. Enchanted by the beauty of the scene, he rides into the midst of the fighting to observe, unaware that he is at the heart of the battlefield. Pierre shows no fear, and the officers allow him to stay. When something explodes next to him, however, he becomes terrified. Pierre returns to the battery to find that the French have captured it and that his recent acquaintances have been killed.
Napoleon, meanwhile, is surveying the battle, but neither he nor his officers really understand what is happening. His officers request reinforcements, and he grows troubled. Finally, news that the French are not doing well reaches Napoleon. He sees the strange new effects of military failure on the faces of his troops. On the other side, Kutuzov decides against a retreat, and the message spreads throughout the Russian troops, inspiring them.
Andrew’s regiment is still under heavy fire. He tries to encourage his troops, but he is wounded by an exploding shell and carried off in dazed confusion to the army hospital, conscious that there is something in life that he does not understand. In the military surgery unit, Andrew witnesses an amputation being performed next to him, and he recognizes the patient to be Anatole Kuragin. Andrew feels that compassion is the greatest human emotion.
Napoleon fails to feel any compunction when he muses on his defeat and all the lives lost. He rationalizes Borodino as merely an unfortunate miscalculation. Meanwhile, it rains on the field of corpses, and the soldiers are tired of killing. The narrator again muses on the irony that a bedraggled Russian army—one that lost a full half of its men—could be considered spiritually triumphant over the unstoppable French war machine. He concludes that the French were opposed by a spirit greater than their own.
The fact that the French army invades as far as Bald Hills, the Bolkonski estate, is symbolic of the end of the old prince’s seclusion from the modern world. A holdover from the bygone days of the previous tsar, resisting newfangled notions about modern statecraft and society, the old prince attempts to keep both himself and his daughter hidden away from the march of history. The eternal truths of geometry mean more to him than social progress or historical change. However, the prince’s growing irritability during the war years shows that he is not at peace with himself. With Napoleon’s entry into Smolensk, the prince’s naïve faith in old-fashioned times comes to a painful end. In this regard, his death is a symbol of the end of the Russian old regime: Russia will never be the same after Napoleon. Tolstoy hints that the aristocracy will lose some of its old entitlements, as we see when Princess Mary is stranded at Bald Hills because her peasants refuse to harness her horses. Similarly, the nobleman Pierre, visiting the battlefield of Borodino as the bullets whiz past, appears absurdly out of place among the practical commoners who are accomplishing the bulk of the victory. We feel that the new Russia will be less aristocratic and more down to earth.
Tolstoy’s final analysis of the Russian victory at Borodino amounts to a conclusion that a “greater spirit” than that of the French proves triumphant. The final conqueror of France has turned out to be neither brilliant Russian military strategy nor the unparalleled heroism of the Russian soldiers, but rather a mystical awareness of a Russian spiritual superiority. Tolstoy emphasizes that there is no rational explanation for why the French are not triumphant at Borodino. French troops significantly outnumber the Russians, yet somehow the ultimate spiritual victory is Russia’s. Napoleon’s self-serving rationalizations and shallow self-confidence have helped him conquer half of Europe, but they are no match for the grand spiritual example Kutuzov sets when he humbly kneels before a religious icon during a church procession. Napoleon believes in his own brilliance, but Kutuzov believes in something greater than himself. This belief is the same sense of belonging to the larger universe that Andrew contemplates when he stares at the sky at Austerlitz and that Pierre feels in his Masonic experiments. Tolstoy implies that, ultimately, it is humility rather than reason that emerges triumphant, whether on the battlefield or in the trials of everyday life.