John George Walker, United States and Confederate Army officer, railroad agent, and United States consul, was born in Cole County, Missouri, on July 22, 1822, the son of John G. and Sarah (Caffery) Walker. His father served as Missouri state treasurer. After graduating from Jesuit College (now St. Louis University), Walker was commissioned in May 1846 as a first lieutenant in Company K of Col. Persifor F. Smith's Mounted Rifle regiment for service in the Mexican War. Walker saw action in the battles of Contreras, Churubusco, and Molino del Rey, in the last of which he was severely wounded. He was brevetted to the rank of captain on August 1, 1847, for "gallant and meritorious conduct" in a skirmish at San Juan de los Llanos. After the war Walker saw duty in Arizona, California, Oregon, and New Mexico and became a captain on June 30, 1851. He served on the Texas frontier against the Indians from 1854 to 1856. Several of his reports describing his exploring expeditions through Navajo territory in 1859 have been published in The Navajo Reconnaissance (1963). Walker reportedly married Mellissa Smith on July 6, 1856. On April 10, 1858, he married Sophie M. Baylor in New Orleans. She was the sister of the writer Frances Courtenay Baylor, the niece of John R., Henry W., and George Wythe Baylor, and the grandniece of Robert E. B. Baylor.
When the Civil War broke out, Walker was serving at Fort Union, New Mexico. He resigned from the United States Army on July 31, 1861, and accepted a commission as major of cavalry in the Regular Army of the Confederate States (December 21, 1861, to rank from March 16, 1861). On January 9, 1862, he was promoted to brigadier general. He served in the Aquia District, Virginia, and commanded a brigade in the Department of North Carolina from early 1862 until June. From June to September 1862 he commanded a division in southeastern Virginia, then led a small division in the invasion of Maryland in September 1862. He commanded a column under Stonewall Jackson in the Confederate capture of Harpers Ferry, September 12–15, 1862, and led a division at the battle of Antietam (or Sharpsburg) on September 17, 1862. On November 8, 1862, he was promoted to major general and transferred to the Trans-Mississippi theater. On January 1, 1863, at Little Rock, Arkansas, he took command of a new division that had been raised and trained by Brig. Gen. Henry E. McCulloch; the unit subsequently became known as Walker's Texas Division or Walker's Greyhounds. Walker led the division with distinction during the Red River campaign of March-May 1864, but after the battle of Pleasant Hill on April 9, in which he was severely wounded, he relinquished command of the unit. On June 10 he relieved Lt. Gen. Richard Taylor as commander of the District of West Louisiana. On August 4, 1864, Walker was assigned to replace John B. Magruder as commander of the District of Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. He was replaced by Magruder on March 31, 1865, on orders of Edmund Kirby Smith, commander of the Trans-Mississippi Department, who feared a massive federal invasion of the Texas coast and reportedly wanted a "fighting commander to meet it." At that time Walker was offered his choice of commanding the District of Arkansas or a division of infantry. In April he assumed command of John Austin Wharton 's cavalry corps, which was camped near Hempstead, and on May 12 he was assigned command of John Horace Forney's division.
After the war, uncertain of the future, Walker joined other senior Confederates in fleeing to Mexico. He was in Havana by August 1865 and then proceeded to England, where he remained for several years with his family, including his mother-in-law and sister-in-law. In 1866 he was a director and English agent for the Virginia-based Venezuela Company, which sought to promote Confederate settlement in Venezuela and planned mining operations in that country. He was also a partner of Francis B. Hoffman of New York in the firm of Walker and Hoffman, with offices in London and Liverpool. As "Commission Merchants, Railway and General Agents," they aimed to supply railroad iron and machinery to the Southern states, while marketing Southern staples in England. On a business trip from Liverpool to Galveston in January 1867, Walker announced his intention to settle in Texas within the next few years; by early 1868 he had returned to the United States. In June 1869 Walker was announced as one of two Texas agents for the Mound City Mutual Life Insurance Company of St. Louis. On November 10, 1869, as an agent of the Houston and Texas Central Railway, he contracted in California for 300 Chinese workers. These laborers, who became the first large group of Chinese in the South, reached Calvert, Texas, in January 1870 and began to help extend the railroad westward. In November 1871 Walker, who was reported as having resided in Jefferson, Texas, for the past year, visited Dallas on a fund-raising trip for the Texas Professorship of Applied Mathematics at Washington and Lee University. Though Walker still had a connection with Jefferson in June 1872, his family appears to have resided in New Orleans from at least this time until probably the fall of 1876, when they moved to the vicinity of Winchester, Virginia, the early home of his mother-in-law.
In August 1872 Walker was engaged in establishing a newspaper, the Dallas News, the first issue of which appeared on August 21, 1872. On September 26, 1872, he joined John Cardwell as an editor and proprietor of the Austin Democratic Statesman (see AUSTIN AMERICAN-STATESMAN). In the late spring of 1873, however, he severed his connection with the Statesman because he had accepted a position as "general emigration agent" for the Texas and Pacific Railway, a job that required him to spend much of his time in New York and Philadelphia. Walker's new duties involved promoting European immigration to the company's lands in Texas. He also lobbied for the railroad in the Texas legislature and in Congress, as well as among state and civic leaders elsewhere in the South. Walker worked for the Texas and Pacific at least through December 1876, while apparently maintaining a residence, or at least a base, in Dallas. On May 28, 1875, he was elected to the positions of board member and vice president for the Dallas Herald Printing Company (see DALLAS TIMES HERALD). In 1875 Governor Richard Coke appointed Walker a Texas delegate to the national railroad convention that assembled in St. Louis on November 23, 1875. On his way to the convention Walker lobbied in various cities on behalf of a southwestern route to the Pacific; when the meeting convened he served on the committee on resolutions. In October 1876 the Dallas Weekly Herald reported that Walker had bought a summer place near Winchester, Virginia, so as to be nearer the Texas and Pacific home office, but that the action would "in no way affect his domicile and citizenship in Texas." Walker seems to have made the Winchester home his chief residence in 1878. He reportedly also engaged in mining operations in the South in the postwar years. During Grover Cleveland's first term as president, Walker served as United States consul in Bogotá, Colombia, and as a special envoy to invite Latin-American republics to the Pan American Conference that convened in 1889. Walker died of a stroke in Washington, D.C., on July 20, 1893, and was buried in Winchester, Virginia. He was survived by his wife, four daughters, and a son.
His first year of Confederate service has frequently been confused with that of another officer of the same name, who was his cousin. This John George Walker raised and commanded Company K of the Eighth Texas Cavalry, Terry's Texas Rangers, and was elected regimental lieutenant colonel after the deaths of colonels Benjamin Franklin Terry and Thomas S. Lubbock.