An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge (Bierce)

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An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge
Summary of the Short Story
Microsummary: A wealthy planter was deceived by an enemy scout and captured while attempting to sabotage a bridge. As he was hanged, he experienced vivid hallucinations of escape before ultimately dying.

Peyton Farquhar, a well-to-do planter in his mid-30s, lived with his wife and children on a plantation in northern Alabama.

Peyton Farquhar — well-to-do planter in his mid-30s; devoted husband and father; dark hair, straight nose, firm mouth, large dark gray eyes; intelligent, resourceful, patriotic.

He was a devoted husband and father, with dark hair, a straight nose, a firm mouth, and large dark gray eyes. Farquhar was intelligent, resourceful, and patriotic, supporting the Southern cause during the Civil War.

One evening, a man dressed as a Confederate soldier approached Farquhar's plantation, asking for a drink of water. Mrs. Farquhar obliged, and while she fetched the water, her husband spoke with the soldier.

Mrs. Farquhar — Peyton's wife; loving, supportive, and caring; represents Farquhar's motivation to survive and return home.

The soldier informed Farquhar that the Union army was repairing the railroads and preparing for another advance. They had reached the Owl Creek Bridge, repaired it, and built a stockade on the north bank. The commandant had issued an order stating that any civilian caught interfering with the railroad, its bridges, tunnels, or trains would be summarily hanged.

Farquhar, eager to help the Southern cause, asked the soldier about the possibility of sabotaging the bridge. The soldier mentioned that a large amount of driftwood had accumulated against the wooden pier at one end of the bridge, which could be set on fire. After the soldier left, Farquhar decided to take action. Unbeknownst to him, the soldier was actually a Federal scout, and his visit was a trap.

Federal Scout — disguised as a Confederate soldier; cunning, deceptive, responsible for leading Farquhar to his execution.

Farquhar made his way to the Owl Creek Bridge, but was captured by Union soldiers before he could carry out his plan. He was brought to the bridge, where his hands were bound, and a noose was placed around his neck. As he stood on the edge of the bridge, he thought about his wife and children, and desperately wished to escape.

As the soldiers prepared to hang Farquhar, he experienced a series of vivid hallucinations. He imagined that the rope around his neck broke, and he fell into the river below.

"He felt the ripples upon his face and heard their separate sounds as they struck."

He struggled to free his hands and swam to the surface, evading gunfire from the Union soldiers on the bridge. He imagined himself being swept downstream, eventually reaching the safety of the forest.

In his hallucination, Farquhar traveled through the forest all day, eventually finding a road that led him back to his plantation. As he approached his home, he saw his wife waiting for him at the bottom of the steps. Just as he was about to embrace her, he felt a sharp pain in the back of his neck and everything went dark.

"Peyton Farquhar was dead; his body, with a broken neck, swung gently from side to side beneath the timbers of the Owl Creek bridge."

In reality, Peyton Farquhar had been hanged from the Owl Creek Bridge. His body, with a broken neck, swung gently from side to side beneath the timbers of the bridge. The vivid escape he had imagined was merely a desperate fantasy in the final moments of his life.