We actually do not discover the identity of the man who is about to be hanged in Part One. We do know that the setting is "a railroad bridge in northern Alabama," and the man is standing on the bridge with a rope around his neck; his hands are tied behind his back. Soldiers of the Federal army are guarding him. We know that the man is a civilian and is presumed to be a plantation owner judging by his clothing. He wears "a kindly expression" on his face, on which is found a mustache and pointed beard. His eyes are not covered. It appears that the gallows are improvised: The plank on which he stands with "unsteadfast footing" is weighted on the other end by a soldier. When the soldier steps off the plank, the man will apparently plunge between the railroad ties. His senses are acute: He hears what appears to be a loud clanging, but he eventually realizes it is only the ticking of his pocketwatch. In what may be his final moments, he thinks of his family and children, but he still has hope. He realizes that if he can only free his hands, he may be able to escape in the river below and, by evading his captors, return home to the family he loves.
Peyton Farquhar is a Southern planter of about thirty-five years of age who has been apprehended by the Union Army for attempting to destroy the railroad bridge at Owl Creek. It is this crime for which he is about to be hanged. Farquhar's hands are tied behind his back and there is a rope around his neck.