William Tipton served as an engineer aboard the United States Navy ship Sacramento during the Civil War. He wrote long letters to his wife and sister in Philadelphia, sharing stories of shipboard life and expressing longing for home.
The Sacramento was charged with searching for Confederate privateers, with her chief target being Alabama, which had been disrupting United States commercial shipping interests for about two years. On May 1, 1864 Tipton writes to his wife, Carrie, from Cape Town:
...[W]e are after the Alabama and she left here some 3 weaks ago fore now body nowes whare but supsed she is gone to france for repares and the Capton don't now what he will do go after her or not There is a rebel steamer the Tuscuylusy laying in Port about 30 miles from here wether we will stay here and watch her is undesident yet she is not ase large as the Alabama but large enofgh to do mischeaf.
Tipton's ship does go after Alabama, but is too late to engage her in battle. From Cherbourg, France on July 8, he writes about missing the action between Alabama and Kearsarge, "We wer gust 8 days behind the alabama when we got here this is where tha had the fight I do wish it had off bin us that would bin glory enoufgh for me."
Tipton's loneliness for home and longing for news of his family and friends are frequent topics in his letters. He makes a few brief comments about the places the ship stops in port, but generally he focuses on personal matters, rather than going into detail about his work, perhaps due to his weariness with shipboard life.
We now have bin to Eingland France Germenny Ireland Brascile Spane Portugal Afracay all the Canery and Westren Ilands I never thought I would sen hafe I have sean I supose it wont do me enny harm as there is a grate meany would give considerable to take this trip but I am tierd ove it I want to go home (July 29, 1864).
Tipton often chides Carrie for not writing enough and entreats her to look after her health and that of their infant son. "I would love to see you and he but I must wate with pations untill old Abe seas fit to let me see you" (September 13, 1864). News of Carrie's ill health and subsequent death reaches Tipton in the spring of 1865. In his letter of May 5, he writes to his sister Virginia "Jennie" Hopkins, "Oh this cruel war. I ever will blame my self ever going in the Navy and leaveing my dear angel wife." The last letter from Tipton is dated August 11, 1865 upon his ship's return from her voyage, and is concerned with arrangements for the care of his son.
The collection also contains several letters from Carrie Tipton at home in Philadelphia, Jennie Hopkins and others, including one from Carrie's doctor specifying her dying wishes, and one partial letter (signature page missing) dated December 15, 1867 describing William Tipton's death several days before. Twelve photographs mounted as cartes de visite of William Tipton, his wife, his son, his second wife and his sister are also included in the collection.