silhouette of a man half submerged in water wiht a noose around his neck

An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge

by Ambrose Bierce
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Who killed Peyton Farquhar?

Peyton Farquhar is killed by a group of soldiers and officers in the Union army. Although he is not a soldier in the Confederate army, he evidently attempted to destroy a railroad bridge and is being executed, by order of the commandant, for that attempt.

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Peyton Farquhar is executed by the Union army during the American Civil War for his apparent attempt to burn down the Owl Creek bridge, part of the railroad, as its destruction would have hampered the Union war effort in the South. On the bridge with him at the beginning of the story are two privates, a sergeant, a captain, and two sentinels, one at each end of the structure. They have erected a sort of temporary platform from which to efficiently and rather unceremoniously hang this gentleman planter.

In part 2 of the story, the reader learns that Farquhar is a plantation owner from Alabama, an "original secessionist," and "ardently devoted to the Southern cause." He would do anything for the South, anything to protect what he sees as his way of life, and he believes that "all is fair in ... war." It seems that he was tricked by a Federal scout who had visited his home, masquerading in the uniform of a Confederate soldier. Farquhar had been baited into believing that he could easily help his Southern brothers-in-arms by destroying a relatively unprotected and yet important bridge by the scout's tale. However, the Union soldiers must have been ready for his attempt, which is not depicted in the text, as he was evidently caught and summarily punished in the manner we see.

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