Desde una edad muy temprana mostró un talento inusual y afición por las matemáticas. A la edad de 16 años, Ellet had far outgrown the scope of the school's mathematical curriculum.
Charles Ellet began his career as a surveyor and assistant engineer on the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal 1828.
From 1831–1832, Ellet, traveled to Europe, enrolled at the Ecole Polytechnique in Paris, France and studied the various engineering works taking place in France, Germany, and Britain.
After a course of study at the Ecole Polytechnique in Paris, France, Charles secured employment on various engineering works first as an assistant at the James River project and soon afterward as chief engineer of the Kanawha Canal project.
His attention at this time was devoted chiefly to the study of methods of inland communication, more particularly suspension bridges.
Charles Ellet was married about 1840 to Elvira Augusta Stuart. They had four children: Mary Virginia, Charles Rivers, Cornelia Daniel, and William Ellet.
In 1841-1842, he constructed the world's first long-span wire-cable suspension bridge suspension bridge across the Shuylkill River at Fairmont, Pennsylvania. It was the first of its kind in America.
Ellet prepared plans for many other bridges including one across the Mississippi at St. Louis, one across the Connecticut at Middletown, and one across the Potomac at Georgetown.
After a period as chief engineer and president of the Schuylkill Navigation Company, Ellet designed and built the first suspension bridge across the Niagara River downstream of Niagara Falls.
Following his success and disappointment at Niagara Falls, Charles Ellet built what was then the longest single span bridge in the world, over the Ohio river at Wheeling, West Virginia.
Ellet introduced a technique he had learned in France of binding small wires together to make the cables. The central span of the suspension bridge over the Ohio River was at 1,010 feet (308 meters); the longest ever built when completed 1849. The bridge failed under wind forces in 1854, however, Ellet's towers remained standing and the bridge was rebuilt.
In 1850 he was called upon by the war department to make surveys and investigation for the preparation of adequate plans for protecting the delta of the Mississippi River.
Having previously been employed on the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, Charles Ellet now became chief engineer of the Central Railroad of Virginia.
In1853, Ellet built a railroad over the Blue Ridge at RockFish Gap, which was probably, the most remarkable line then in existence. It crossed the mountain at a height of 1,845 feet, was eight miles long, and had a maximum grading of 296 feet per mile and minimum radius of curvature of 234 feet.
Following the outbreak of the American Civil War in 1861, Charles Ellet designed and developed a steam-powered ship for the Union (Northern) forces to ram the Confederates on the Mississippi River.
The Secretary of War appointed Charles Ellet, Colonel of Engineers and commissioned him to buy vessels and convert them into rams.
On June 6th 1862, Ellet led a fleet of nine of these rams in the Battle of Memphis. Here, a battle was fought, in which, Ellet in commanding the war ship "Queen of the West" rammed the Confederate ship "General Lovell", cutting her nearly in half, and causing her to sink in a few seconds.
The Union side was victorious, but in the course of the fighting Charles Ellet was fatally wounded.
At the moment of the collision, Charles Ellet, who was standing on deck in an exposed position, was struck in the knee by a bullet that caused his death.
Colonel Charles Ellet died at Cairo, Illinois on June 21, 1862.
Hoy existen seis puentes que cruzan la frontera entre Canadá y U.S.A. atravesando el río Niágara. Estos son: