Born in Milford Center, Ohio, he graduated from the Cincinnati Law School in 1859, prior to the school's merger with the University of Cincinnati in its present form. Having enlisted in the Union Army's Iowa Infantry during the Civil War, Lieutenant Colonel Chipman fought courageously in battle and was nearly mortally wounded, leading his commanders to report him as dead at the Battle of Fort Donelson. Chipman did, in fact, survive and, upon recovery, was appointed as a member of General Samuel Curtis's staff. He later became a member of the Judge Advocate General's staff.
Chipman successfully prosecuted Captain Henry Wirz, the commander of the Confederacy's infamous Andersonville prison camp, where almost 13,000 Union soldiers lost their lives. Chipman published his recollections of the famous Andersonville Trial in his 1911 book, The Tragedy of Andersonville.
After the Civil War, Chipman was appointed Secretary of the District of Columbia by President Ulysses S. Grant, and was later elected to Congress as representative of the District of Columbia, serving two terms. He was a co-founder of the Grand Army of the Republic, and authored the order creating Memorial Day. After moving to California in 1876, Chipman served as a member of the California State Board of Trade, eventually becoming its president. Finally, he was appointed by California's governor George Pardee as the first presiding justice of the newly created California Third District Court of Appeal, a position he held until 1921.
He died in 1924 in San Francisco at the age of 89. He was interred in Cypress Lawn Cemetery in Colma, California. An elaborate memorial remains in the library of the California Third District Court of Appeal in Sacramento, complete with Chipman’s old photographs, letters, desk and gavels. Chipman remains to date the longest serving presiding justice of the court. In April 2006, the Federalist Society of Chipman's alma mater, the University of Cincinnati College of Law, officially honored Chipman, renaming its local chapter the "Norton Parker Chipman Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy Studies at the University of Cincinnati College of Law."