Peyton Farquhar was a well to do planter, of an old and highly respected Alabama family. Being a slave owner and like other slave owners a politician, he was naturally an original secessionist and ardently devoted to the Southern cause. Circumstances of an imperious nature, which it is unnecessary to relate here, had prevented him from taking service with that gallant army which had fought the disastrous campaigns ending with the fall of Corinth, and he chafed under the inglorious restraint, longing for the release of his energies, the larger life of the soldier, the opportunity for distinction. That opportunity, he felt, would come, as it comes to all in wartime. Meanwhile he did what he could. No service was too humble for him to perform in the aid of the South, no adventure to perilous for him to undertake if consistent with the character of a civilian who was at heart a soldier, and who in good faith and without too much qualification assented to at least a part of the frankly villainous dictum that all is fair in love and war.

One evening while Farquhar and his wife were sitting on a rustic bench near the entrance to his grounds, a gray-clad soldier rode up to the gate and asked for a drink of water. Mrs. Farquhar was only too happy to serve him with her own white hands. While she was fetching the water her husband approached the dusty horseman and inquired eagerly for news from the front.

"The Yanks are repairing the railroads," said the man, "and are getting ready for another advance. They have reached the Owl Creek bridge, put it in order and built a stockade on the north bank. The commandant has issued an order, which is posted everywhere, declaring that any civilian caught interfering with the railroad, its bridges, tunnels, or trains will be summarily hanged. I saw the order."

"How far is it to the Owl Creek bridge?" Farquhar asked.

"About thirty miles."

"Is there no force on this side of the creek?"

"Only a picket post half a mile out, on the railroad, and a single sentinel at this end of the bridge."

"Suppose a man--a civilian and student of hanging--should elude the picket post and perhaps get the better of the sentinel," said Farquhar, smiling, "what could he accomplish?"

The soldier reflected. "I was there a month ago," he replied. "I observed that the flood of last winter had lodged a great quantity of driftwood against the wooden pier at this end of the bridge. It is now dry and would burn like tinder."

The lady had now brought the water, which the soldier drank. He thanked her ceremoniously, bowed to her husband and rode away. An hour later, after nightfall, he repassed the plantation, going northward in the direction from which he had come. He was a Federal scout.


  1. The narrator introduces Farquhar's wife and at the same time gets her out of the way so that the two men can have their conversation about the Owl Creek Bridge. The narrator explains that Mrs. Farquhar is honoring the soldier by serving him with "her own white hands." This honor explains why she doesn't simply order one of her black household slave women to fetch the water. The inclusion of the word "white" is intended to suggest that the job of serving water would ordinarily be done by slaves. Later she will be an important symbol in the story.

    — William Delaney
  2. Execution during the Civil War took different forms for combatants and civilians. Combatants—soldiers wearing their uniforms—who engaged in spying or sabotage, were entitled to be executed by firing squad, whereas civilians were hanged. Hanging was considered a dishonorable way to die.

    — Stephen Holliday
  3. This is most likely the narrator's way of explaining why Farquhar is not in the Confederate army. Under ordinary circumstances, a man of his class would have been expected to fight, not stay home on the plantation.

    — Stephen Holliday
  4. A picket post is an outpost in enemy territory manned by soldiers sent ahead to warn of a surprise attack.

    — Susan Hurn
  5. At this point, the setting of the story shifts to a different place and an earlier time. The man about to be hanged in part I is now given a name and an identity.

    — Susan Hurn
  6. Peyton sees an opportunity to contribute to the South's war against Union.

    — Susan Hurn
  7. Mrs. Farquhar, as the wife of a man who owns slaves, is not accustomed to serving food or drink to those who come to her home; she is accustomed to being served.

    — Susan Hurn
  8. Confederate forces were defeated in the Battle of Corinth, which occurred at Corinth, Mississippi, on October 3-4, 1862.

    — Susan Hurn