In the pages of our nation's history, and in Texas, in particular, there has never been a person of a more spotless character than John Alexander Formwalt. He was the second son of Jacob and Rebecca (Troup) Formwalt born in Knoxville, Tennessee on April 22, 1820. His great-grandparents were of German birth and came to America in colonial days.
When a young boy John received his primary education in the subscription schools of the time and pursued his studies there until he was twelve years old. At age eighteen he went to a private school taught by an Englishman in the mountains of Alabama.
In the year 1840, young John A. Formwalt made his first visit to Texas. He stayed in Red River County for six months and then returned to Tennessee, having made the trip on horseback. He spent some years in Pontotoc County, Mississippi, where he worked as clerk and bookkeeper for a mercantile firm, but when his abilities and reliable character came to be recognized he was elected to the office of county clerk. He remained in that position from 1847 to 1849, when he was forced to seek a change of climate because of failing health.
This was in 1849, when the California gold fever was intense; and with others he journeyed to the Pacific slope, where he engaged in mining for nearly two years. He returned to his home in Mississippi and a year later, selling out his interests there, he emigrated to East Texas. He made the trip with ox teams and reached Anderson County after traveling for three months! When there, he purchased and operated a farm for two years and then moved to Palestine in the same county, where he was appointed postmaster, serving in that capacity for three years.
He resumed farming and in 1859 purchased a section of land near Thorp Spring in Hood County close to the town of Granbury. He was a very important man in the development of Hood County and was known to take an active part in its affairs and was recognized as a "wide-awake," progressive and valued citizen.
Major Formwalt was a Democrat, though he never was a politician. He was first appointed to the office of Justice of the Peace to fill a vacancy and was subsequently elected to the same office three times. He was a Master Mason in good standing for 25 years or more, and in religious belief he was a Presbyterian. He was very generous with his contributions to educational interests; and school, church and social interests found in him a friend.
Married twice, first at Pontotoc, Mississippi, in December, 1845, to Miss Courtney Lane McEwen, daughter of Colonel D. K. McEwen, he was the father of seven children. Courtney died in 1880, and having preceded Major Formwalt in death, her grave marker has the designation "Consort"
Consort of J. M. Formwalt
Born May 11, 1825
Died Dec. 20, 1880
Consort of J. M. Formwalt
Born May 11, 1825
Died Dec. 20, 1880
After Courtney died, and on December 25, 1882, John married Mrs. Burdett, widow of John Burdett and daughter of Judge Jowers, of Palestine, Texas.
In Memory of Maj. J. A. Formwalt Born April 22, 1820 Died Jan 18, 1914
Both Major Formwalt and Courtney L. Formwalt's memorials are on this tall, impressive monument located in a shady, beautiful spot under an old, magnificent cedar in Granbury Cemetery in Hood County.
Major Formwalt was always a leader and after Civil War broke out, he enlisted as a private in Captain William Shannon's company to serve in the Confederate Army; but in the following spring Colonel A. Nelson, to whom this company reported, noticed the qualities of leadership that this young private possessed, and sent Formwalt to the Brazos settlement to raise a company. He soon accomplished this. Formwalt was elected its captain, and he and his men immediately reported to Colonel Nelson's Tenth Regiment of Texas Infantry. This noted regiment, upon the promotion of Colonel Nelson, was subsequently commanded by Colonel Roger Q. Mills, and Major Formwalt participated in all the many desperate battles in which his command took part.
Major Formwalt was captured January 11, 1862, at Arkansas Post, and suffered imprisonment at Columbus, Ohio, for five months, when he was exchanged. After that time his service was in the Army of the Tennessee. At the battle of Franklin, Tennessee, in the assault led by Generals Pat Cleburne and Hiram B. Granbury, Formwalt, as senior captain, led his regiment to the charge and fell, severely wounded, being one among many other heroes whose blood was shed that day. He was not mortally wounded, however, and was afterward promoted to the rank of major.
Not long after the war ended, Major Formwalt returned home, began a mercantile business in Granbury but soon returned to the farm which had been badly wasted during the years he was gone. His wife and children had faced many hardships and dangers known only to those who were within the territory so frequently invaded by the Indians. Much of his property was wasted and gone, but he resumed the labors of a civilian and soon again became prosperous.
"Though spending his later years in judicial office, the military title of Major is far more fitting to Mr. Formwalt than that of judge, for, possessing the bluntness and courage of the Scottish chief, he combines with it the grace and courtesy of the faithful Christian gentleman. Deeply imbued with sentiments of patriotic devotion to his country, had his life been spent under favoring circumstances, honor and glory might alike have attached to his name and fixed it well upon the pages of his country's history; but as the fatality of events have decreed he is now serving his neighbors in the humble office of magistrate at the age of seventy-six years, but with buoyant step and figure erect appears not to exceed sixty. It has already been fitly written:
'The march of the soldier is ending;
On the hilltops over the river
The campfire lights are ascending
To our God, the merciful giver,
Where comrades assembling in glory
At the heavenly gates are waiting;
While mortals in song and in story,
Their valorous deeds are relating.' "1896
Granbury Cemetery, Granbury, Hood County, Texas
Photographs taken by Judith Richards Shubert (c) 2009
History of Texas, 1896, Chicago: The Lewis Publishing Co.
Hood County Texas Genealogical Society
In honor of Memorial Day, the topic for the June 2009 edition of the GYR Carnival is Veteran's Memorials. Sharing photos and/or stories related to all-things veteran's in honor of our fallen heroes.