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Downtown Vicksburg Mississippi Walking Tour
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Balfour House is historically significant for its association with one of its residents, Emma Balfour, who kept a diary during the Siege of Vicksburg (May 8-July 4, 1863). Her diary is considered to be one of the most accurate accounts of the siege. She describes the daily struggles residents faced and how they were forced to live in hand-dug caves to escape the constant shelling from Union artillery. In terms of design, the house combines the Greek Revival and Federal architectural styles. The house, which appears to be a private residence today, was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1971.

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Emma Balfour was born in Virginia in 1818 and moved to Mississippi with her first husband, who died in 1844. After his death, Emma moved to Alabama to live with her brother and sister-in-law. It was there that she met her future second husband William Balfour, who was her brother's classmate in medical school. They got married in 1847 and settled in Vicksburg, where William had already been living. Balfour House was built around 1835 by a man named James McDowell. Interestingly, the land on which the house stands was once owned by Lucy Vick, who was a descendant of Vicksburg's founder, Rev. Newet Vick. McDowell sold the house to William Balfour in 1850.

The Balfours were one of Vicksburg's prominent couples, and they often hosted gatherings at the house. Perhaps the most memorable one was the Christmas ball held on Christmas Eve, 1862. The guests, who included Brig. General Martin Luther Smith and other Confederate Army officers and their wives, were celebrating a recent Confederate victory in northern Mississippi. However, the ball quickly ended when a courier arrived to warn the guests of an impending advance of Union troops led by General William T. Sherman. On December 26, the first engagement of the Union campaign to take Vicksburg, the Battle of Chickasaw Bayou, occurred. The Confederates won the battle but the Union would continue their effort to capture the city.

During the siege, the Balfours remained in the house most of the time and they tended to wounded soldiers who took shelter in the home. In her diary, Emma often commented on the shells that passed over the house and how the house shook. As the siege wore on and Grant's forces tightened its grip on the city, she described the increasing despair she and other residents felt. Despite the constant shelling, the Balfour House was hit by just one shell above a second-story window. After the siege, the house was occupied by Union General James B. McPherson, who used it as his headquarters.

Balfour House remained in the family until 1890 when a Jewish club bought it. After a series of owners in the coming decades, the Catholic Diocese of Natchez-Jackson acquired it in 1944. By the 1970s, it became an apartment house but since then has been converted back into a single-family residence.

Bagley, Clinton. "Balfour House." National Park Service - National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form. October 26, 1971. https://npgallery.nps.gov/GetAsset/67a8cdf9-881c-4bf1-bf6c-6ed6b0048f34.

"Balfour House." The Historical Marker Database. Accessed January 21, 2021. https://www.hmdb.org/m.asp?m=97085.

"Civil War Diarist of Vicksburg." History of American Women. Accessed January 21, 2020. https://www.womenhistoryblog.com/2008/11/emma-balfour.html.

ElMalvaney. "Vicksburg's Balfour House, 1863." Preservation Mississippi. June 13, 2013. https://misspreservation.com/2013/06/04/vicksburgs-balfour-house-1863.

Frazier, Terri Cowart. "'Grand dame of Vicksburg' is once again on the market." The Vicksburg Post. September 1, 2020. vicksburgpost.com/2020/09/01/grande-dame-of-vicksburg-is-once-again-on-the-market.

Frazier, Terri Cowart. "Historic Balfour a home again." The Vicksburg Post. March 15, 2014. https://www.vicksburgpost.com/2014/03/15/historic-balfour-a-home-again.

Image Sources(Click to expand)

Courtland Wells, via The Vicksburg Post

National Park Service