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

An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge

by Ambrose Bierce
Start Free Trial

Why does the Federal scout want Farquhar to burn the bridge in "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge"?

The Federal scout wants Farquhar to attempt to burn the bridge so that the Federal army can catch him in the act and have an excuse to hang the planter for it. This is why the scout dresses as a Confederate soldier, someone Farquhar would trust.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The Federal scout seems to be purposely trying to trap Peyton Farquhar into attempting to burn down the bridge so that the Union army will have a reason to execute him. In part 1, the narrator describes the military code as "liberal" in that it "makes provision for hanging many kinds of persons, and gentlemen are not excluded." In fact, this kind of "liberality" seems to be one of the author's many criticisms of war in general.

Though Farquhar believes that his home is "still beyond the invader's farthest advance," he is, apparently, wrong. The "gray-clad soldier" who came to his home sometime recently, an event we see depicted in part 2, was merely dressed as a Confederate soldier, though readers learn he was really a Federal scout.

The man had described how important the railroads are to the Union war effort by emphasizing the heavy penalty to be paid by any who interfered with them. He also implied that it would be easy for someone to burn the bridge down as a result of some driftwood that had accumulated nearby. As someone loyal to the Federal, or Union, army, the scout would not really want to see harm come to the railroad, or the Owl Creek bridge; so it stands to reason that he must be trying to entrap Farquhar so that the planter can be captured in the act and executed for it.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on