Just as everyone knows that Napoleon reached Moscow, so they’ve heard of the bravery of the Moscow residents who set the city on fire rather than let the French have it.
Well, that’s true in a way, Tolstoy says. Although it’s not like the rich people fleeing Moscow actually lit the fires themselves. It was more a kind of passive acceptance of what would happen when the city was abandoned.
Somehow the collective consciousness of the city knew that no way were they going to stick around and be occupied by the French. The collective consciousness must have also known that leaving a totally wooden city unattended would inevitably mean it would burn to the ground. And that’s what happened.
The only person resisting the general mood is Rastopchin, the city's governor. He wants to be a hero, so he keeps doing sort of random, useless, and sometimes horrible things. He writes a bunch of proclamations declaring everyone who leaves town a coward and a traitor. He arms a volunteer militia to fight off the French, but then disperses this militia, which then turns into a bunch of armed hooligans roaming the streets.
And there's more. We’re going to see this guy’s great deeds up close and personal in a few chapters. It’s pretty horrific.