Charles Ellet Jr was born January 1st 1810 in William Penn Manor, Buck, Pennsylvania. He studied civil engineering in Paris, France at the Ecole Polytechnique. He designed the first wire cable suspension bridge built in the United States in 1842. It spanned the Schuylkill River at Fairmount, Pennsylvania, and was 358 feet long. There were other bridges to follow including the 770 foot long footbridge at Niagara Falls. Ellet also engineered canals and railroads in Virginia and Pennsylvania, as well as building flood control dams on local rivers. In 1850 he was directed by the United States Secretary of War Charles M. Conrad to survey the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers and make plans to improve navigation. Ellet wrote a pamphlet in 1855 called “Coast and Harbor Defenses, or the Substitution of Steam Battering Rams for Ships of War”.
Union Secretary of War Edwin M Stanton had Ellet appointed Colonel of Engineers in March 1861, and set him creating the Union Ram Fleet. He had nine steam ships converted to vessels. These ships were designated the Mississippi Ram Fleet. While he was on board the USS Queen of the West, Ellet was mortally wounded, being shot in the knee during the Battle of Memphis on June 6th 1862. He died fifteen days later June 21st 1862 at Cairo, Illinois. He is buried in the Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.