Peyton Farquhar is the most important character in this story. He is so important that through much of the story, he is almost the only character. Most of the other characters don't even have names. The story opens with a description of Farquhar standing on the Owl Creek bridge. It ends with a description of him hanging beneath it after his execution. The remainder of the tale is about his backstory (how he came to be in this situation) and the moment of his death. Farquhar is a loyal Southerner. He's a slave-owning planter who supports the Confederate rebellion. Thirty-five years old, he's married and loves his family. However, Farquhar has a thirst for glory and sees himself as a prospective hero. Unfortunately, Farquhar doesn't know himself or his situation well enough to achieve this, but he thinks he does. In the process, he deceives himself. He is hero enough that he tries to sabotage the Owl Creek bridge. But he is also foolish enough to try to do so after a Union spy mentions the bridge to him, tricking Farquhar into getting caught and hanged. Bierce dramatizes Farquhar's self-delusions further in Part 3, when he has a vision of his heroic escape from his execution. This turns out to be nothing more than another fantasy. It is difficult to decipher which details concerning Farquhar are real and which may be self-deception or illusion.
Captain and lieutenant
The anonymous Union captain is in charge of Farquhar's hanging. The anonymous Union lieutenant is in charge of the company of Union soldiers at Owl Creek.
Farquhar's dutiful wife, as Farquhar imagines her, is a feminine ideal. Since Mrs. Farquhar never appears in the story as a real person, his view of her may or may not be accurate.
Privates and sentinels
The two privates are anonymous Union soldiers who ready Peyton Farquhar for his hanging. The two sentinels are anonymous Union soldiers who guard the Owl Creek bridge during Farquhar's hanging.
The anonymous Union sergeant directs the men's preparations for hanging Farquhar. He steps off the board that causes Farquhar to drop to his death. He demonstrates a sense of self-importance regarding his role in the ceremony of hanging.
As an undercover spy, the anonymous Union scout visits Farquhar's plantation in disguise and lures Farquhar into attacking the Owl Creek bridge. In his dual identities, the Union scout symbolizes the rift between the imagination and reality that the story addresses.