When a "gray clad" soldier passes the entrance to Peyton Farquhar's property one evening asking for a drink of water, Farquhar's wife is "only too happy to serve him with her own white hands." Farquhar is glad to see the Confederate soldier as well, striking up a conversation with him and inquiring about "news from the front." The Yankees are on the move and heading south, the soldier tells Farquhar. Union soldiers have occupied the Owl Creek bridge about thirty miles away, the rebel says, but their force is not strong. Trusting the soldier, Farquhar inquires about the likelihood of destroying the bridge, and the soldier tells him that it might be possible. The soldier finishes his water and heads south, presumably toward the Confederate lines. Later that night, under cover of darkness,
... he repassed the plantation, going northward in the direction from which he had come. He was a Federal scout.
The soldier is heading to the north because he is a Union spy, dressed in Confederate clothing. He is probably heading back to his lines--possibly those at the Owl Creek bridge--to report that he has successfully made contact with Farquhar and supplied him with false information. The narrator suggests that Farquhar has spied before: There were "Circumstances of an imperious nature" and that there was "no adventure too perilous to undertake." Farquhar may well have been previously suspected of spying, and the Federal scout had orders to set him up.