Set during the American
, "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" is the story of Peyton
Farquhar, a Confederate
sympathizer condemned to death by hanging
from Owl Creek Bridge. At the beginning of the story, the protagonist stands
bound at the bridge's edge. It is later revealed that after a disguised Union
scout enlisted him to attempt to demolish the bridge, he was caught in the
In the first part of the story, a gentlemanly planter in his mid-30s is
standing on a railroad bridge in Alabama
Six military men and a company of infantry men are present. The man is to be
hanged. As he is waiting, he thinks of his wife and children. Then he is
distracted by a tremendous noise. He can not identify this noise, other than
that it sounds like the clanging of a blacksmith's hammer on the anvil. He
cannot tell if it was far away or nearby. He finds himself apprehensively
awaiting each strike, which seem to grow further and further apart. It is
revealed that this noise is the ticking of his watch. Then, an escape plan
flashes through his mind: "throw off the noose and spring into the stream. By
diving I could evade the bullets and, swimming vigorously, take to the woods and
get away home." His thoughts stray back to his wife and children. The soldiers
drop him down.
The story flashes back in time: Peyton Farquhar lives in the South and is a
supporter. He goes out of his way to perform services to support and help the
Confederate side. One day, a gray-clad soldier appears at his house and tells
Farquhar that Union soldiers in the area have been repairing the railroads,
including the one over Owl Creek Bridge. Interested, Farquhar asks if it is
possible to sabotage the bridge, to which the soldier replies that he could burn
it down. When the soldier leaves, it is revealed that he is a Union scout who
has lured Farquhar into a trap, as anyone caught interfering with the railroads
would face the noose.
When he is hanged, the rope breaks. Farquhar falls into the water. While
underwater, he seems to take little interest in the fact that his hands, which
now have a life of their own, are freeing themselves and untying the rope from
around his neck. Once he finally reaches the surface, he realizes his senses are
superhuman. He can see the individual blades of grass and the colors of bugs on
the leaves of trees, despite the fact that he is whirling around in a river.
Realizing that the men are shooting at him, he escapes and makes it to dry land.
He travels through an uninhabited and seemingly-unending forest, attempting to
reach his home 30 miles away. During his journey through the day and night, he
is fatigued, footsore, and famished, urged on by the thought of his wife and
children. He begins experiencing strange physiological events, hearing unusual
noises from the wood, and believes he has fallen asleep while walking. He wakes
to see his perfectly preserved home, with his beautiful and youthful wife
outside. As he runs forward to reach her, he suddenly feels a searing pain in
his neck; a white light flashes, and everything goes black.
It is revealed that Farquhar never escaped at all; he imagined the entire
third part of the story during the time between falling through the bridge and
the noose finally breaking his neck.