Now for another long bit about how history way oversimplified the random chaos of millions of people doing stuff into a few details about the powerful people. We’re sensing a theme here, people.
What really started the war, then? Sure there were historical, cultural, economic, and other important forces at work...but also:
1. Napoleon was feeling all flattered and awesome in Dresden, and then had to back up his big talk.
2. Alexander was feeling dissed by his country-ruling homies and had to get back the respect of his peeps.
And how come Napoleon lost the war?
Well, of course, hindsight is 20/20, so looking back on it we can see that hiking deep into Russia in the middle of the coldest winter ever without enough food was pretty asinine on the part of the French.
But at the time no one really thought about it. Napoleon was gunning for Moscow, thinking that if he sacked the capital, Russia would cry uncle.
Meanwhile, the Russians weren’t in any way actually trying to lure the French farther and farther into the country.
And there’s certainly no way that anyone at all could have predicted that the Russian civilians would get so nationalistic and gung-ho that they would actually burn all their land, food, houses, and belongings rather than leave it for the French.
But that’s what ended up happening, and the French were stuck up crap creek with no food and shelter in the middle of an extra-freezing Russian winter.
But only in retrospect can we pretend like anyone actually meant for any of this to happen or planned anything to come out this way. It was just dumb luck, is what Tolstoy is saying.
Anyway, the whole Russian-army-retreat-into-Russia happens because the army is split between two generals who cannot stand each other. They just do maneuver after maneuver to avoid each other. There’s Barclay, who is German and unpopular, and there’s Bagration, who doesn’t want to be under Barclay.
When they finally reconnect, in Smolensk, they have to stop retreating and fight the French. It goes badly. Just after the Russian army loses, Smolensk is abandoned by the Smolenskians, who not only flee but also set fire to the whole city behind them. Oh yeah, French dudes? You want this city so bad? Well, here it is. Oh, and by the way, it’s engulfed in flames, so you might want to bring some extinguishers.