A man, Farquhar, was waiting to get hung by the military during the civil war, he thinks of his family and how they are "still beyond the invader's farthest advance".
The soldiers are nearly ready to execute him. "The preparations have been completed, the two private soldiers stepped aside and each drew away the plank upon which he had been standing."
We now find out that the character was a "well to do planter, of an old and highly respected Alabama family".
He is a slave owner and devoted to the Southern cause.
One evening, Farquhar was talking to a Confederate soldier who was passing through about how "the Yanks...have reached the Owl Creek Bridge" and how a civilian could easily set the bridge on fire.
The hanging commences, but Farquhar realizes that the rope has miraculously broken. He manages to away without getting shot by his executors.
Farquhar spends days swimming along the river and then eventually walking on land. At one point, he "fell asleep when he was walking".
One morning, he finds himself and his house with his wife standing at the front step. "Ah, how beautiful she is!"
But unfortunately, he is struck on the back of the neck and falls dead before he can reach his family. And he is dead... "His body, with a broken neck, swaying gently...beneath the timbers of Owl Creek Bridge."