Charles W. Ford was a 27-year-old shipmaster—probably a schooner captain—from Bristol, Maine, when he enlisted in the 1st Maine in October 1861.
He was mustered as sergeant of Company K on November 2 and was promoted to orderly sergeant on March 12, 1862. He was commissioned as supernumerary 2nd lieutenant in September 1862, and after that rank was abolished to 2nd lieutenant on December 9, 1862.

Lieutenant Ford is quoted in the regimental history regarding a foraging expedition in November 1862:
“The second or third day our regiment was ordered to take four days rations, which used to last about a day and a half when on one of those raids.
When coming out of the woods my company sighted a smoke-house or ham-house. They saw it first, as they usually did these things, and a detail was made to go over.
If I remember right, Capt. Chadbourne was sent over to see that they did not get more than they wanted. They made a rush and went in.
The captain sat on his horse near by. The old man who owned the smoke-house came out and said, ‘For God’s sake, leave me some.’ A man from Co. I sang out, ‘Hoe in, you old fellow, ad get your share!’ the old man saw the point, and ran in and brought out two hams and his wife another.
‘There, old man,’ said a member of Co. I, ‘you have got your share—keep away now!'”

Ford was promoted to 1st lieutenant on January 4, 1863, and he commanded Company K from June 17 till September 17, 1863.
When the 1st Maine returned from its reconnaissance to Little Washington behind Confederate lines in October 1863 he commanded the advance guard.
He served as field recruiting officer during the winter of 1863-64, persuading the 3-year men to reenlist.
On June 24, 1864, he was detached to serve as quartermaster and commissary at Camp Berry, the camp for conscripted men in Portland.
On January 21, 1865, he was commissioned captain and acting quartermaster of US Volunteers and joined the staff of Quartermaster General Montgomery C. Meigs.
After four years of varied field and administrative duty, he was mustered out on November 25, 1865.