The Samuel Ripley papers contain 60 letters, spanning February 1864-February 1865, two brief undated notes, and two photographs. Samuel Ripley wrote 58 of the letters between the commencement of his service in the 36th Wisconsin Infantry in February 1864, and his imprisonment at Salisbury Prison in August of the same year. The recipients were his wife Mary and his mother Abigail. Ripley's early letters, between February and mid-May 1864, describe life at Camp Randall near Madison, Wisconsin, including drilling, taking on the responsibilities of company clerk, and leisure activities. Several letters also mention attempts to visit Mary, as well as to bring her to Madison before his departure for the front.
Between June and August, Ripley wrote 37 long, richly-detailed letters, in which he discussed many aspects of the war: his opinions on its progress and how it was conducted, experiences participating in trench warfare during the Siege of Petersburg, attitudes toward fighting and the Union cause, and, to some extent, politics. He also frequently mentioned his ongoing rheumatism and digestive issues, but generally reported experiencing fair health. Correspondence from June 14-23, 1864, vividly depicts the siege of Petersburg, including being grazed by bullets and participating in an undermanned charge through an unprotected melon field (June 19, 1864). In a letter of June 20, 1864, Ripley described the variety of activity in the trenches: "any one fires from the trench who pleases and when they please, so some are firing some eating some cooking some hunting grey backs." Surprisingly, although an undated note in the collection states that Ripley was wounded on June 22, 1864, his letters do not mention such an event.
A strong believer in the Union and in the abolition of slavery, Ripley admitted to disliking warfare (June 27, 1864), but hoped that peace arbitrations would not succeed unless they ended slavery (July 25, 1864). In several other letters, he expressed distaste for "Copper-heads." He also frequently made predictions about movements and on the outcome of the war, which he believed had neared its end.
Ripley's later letters are particularly introspective and frank; on August 22, 1864, he wrote to his mother, describing his reasons for enlisting against the wishes and advice of friends, and alluded to his own shortcomings and disagreements with his deceased father. He also mentioned his distrust of some Union officers, whom he suspected of receiving bribes from Southerners and stealing packages from Union soldiers. In his last letter of August 28, 1864, Ripley notified his wife about his capture. Two letters from military officials, providing details on Ripley's imprisonment and death, close the correspondence.
The Miscellany Series contains lyrics to a Civil War song, a few biographical details, and two photographs of Ripley (one tintype and one carte-de-visite).