An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge HTML version

Four Days in Dixie
During a part of the month of October, 1864, the Federal and Confederate armies of
Sherman and Hood respectively, having performed a surprising and resultless series of
marches and countermarches since the fall of Atlanta, confronted each other along the
separating line of the Coosa River in the vicinity of Gaylesville, Alabama. Here for
several days they remained at rest--at least most of the infantry and artillery did; what the
cavalry was doing nobody but itself ever knew or greatly cared. It was an interregnum of
expectancy between two régimes of activity.
I was on the staff of Colonel McConnell, who commanded an infantry brigade in the
absence of its regular commander. McConnell was a good man, but he did not keep a
very tight rein upon the half dozen restless and reckless young fellows who (for his sins)
constituted his "military family." In most matters we followed the trend of our desires,
which commonly ran in the direction of adventure--it did not greatly matter what kind. In
pursuance of this policy of escapades, one bright Sunday morning Lieutenant Cobb, an
aide-de-camp, and I mounted and set out to "seek our fortunes," as the story books have
it. Striking into a road of which we knew nothing except that it led toward the river, we
followed it for a mile or such a matter, when we found our advance interrupted by a
considerable creek, which we must ford or go back. We consulted a moment and then
rode at it as hard as we could, possibly in the belief that a high momentum would act as it
does in the instance of a skater passing over thin ice. Cobb was fortunate enough to get
across comparatively dry, but his hapless companion was utterly submerged. The disaster
was all the greater from my having on a resplendent new uniform, of which I had been
pardonably vain. Ah, what a gorgeous new uniform it never was again!
A half-hour devoted to wringing my clothing and dry-charging my revolver, and we were
away. A brisk canter of a half-hour under the arches of the trees brought us to the river,
where it was our ill luck to find a boat and three soldiers of our brigade. These men had
been for several hours concealed in the brush patiently watching the opposite bank in the
amiable hope of getting a shot at some unwary Confederate, but had seen none. For a
great distance up and down the stream on the other side, and for at least a mile back from
it, extended cornfields. Beyond the cornfields, on slightly higher ground, was a thin
forest, with breaks here and there in its continuity, denoting plantations, probably. No
houses were in sight, and no camps. We knew that it was the enemy's ground, but
whether his forces were disposed along the slightly higher country bordering the bottom
lands, or at strategic points miles back, as ours were, we knew no more than the least
curious private in our army. In any case the river line would naturally be picketed or
patrolled. But the charm of the unknown was upon us; the mysterious exerted its old-time
fascination, beckoning to us from that silent shore so peaceful and dreamy in the beauty
of the quiet Sunday morning. The temptation was strong and we fell. The soldiers were as
eager for the hazard as we, and readily volunteered for the madmen's enterprise.
Concealing our horses in a cane-brake, we unmoored the boat and rowed across