Charles Steedman was born September 20, 1811, on his father's plantation in the parish of St. James, Santee, South Carolina. He was always intended for the sea, and when he was only eight or ten years old his father had his name entered on the list of applicants for a midshipman's appointment. At the age of fourteen he made a voyage to Liverpool in a merchant-ship, and upon his return served as a sort of acting midshipman in the Revenue Service. In 1828 he received his appointment in the navy, and entered the Naval School, which was then at the navy yard, New York.
Commodore Isaac Chauncey was the commandant, and the second in command was Francis Gregory, another officer bf the Wag of 1812, who survived the Civil War. Steedman remained at the school eighteen months, and was then sent to sea in the Natchez, a 700-ton sloop-of-war commanded by J. T. Newton, who had been with Lawrence in the Hornet, when that ship fought and destroyed the Peacock in fifteen minutes off the coast of British Guiana, and who later distinguished himself with Biddle, when the same vessel captured the Penguin.