Emmaline "Emma" Harrison was born in Virginia. In 1834, she married Edward R. Warren, and moved with him to Vicksburg, Mississippi to follow the antebellum cotton boom. The couple had one daughter, who died suddenly at age 2. Short aftewards, Emma's husband died of yellow fever. Emma went to live with her brother and his family at their Alabama plantation. On a return visit to Vicksburg in 1847, she married William T. Balfour, a physician, with whom she had four children. The couple bought a large Federal-style brick mansion in Vicksburg, Balfour House, now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Emma cultivated an elaborate garden at her home. Her diary of the 43-day bombardment of her city by Union forces during the American Civil War is one of the most valuable eyewitness accounts of the Siege of Vicksburg, one of the turning points in the war.