Charles Read was born in either Hinds or Yazoo County, Mississippi in 1840. He was appointed to the United States Naval Academy in 1856 and graduated in 1860.
He served briefly aboard USS Powhatan after graduation.
At the outbreak of the American Civil War Read resigned his commission with the United States Navy and accepted a position with the Confederate States Navy.
Read was initially assigned to the CSS McRae at New Orleans, Louisiana as a midshipman and participated in the naval battles that led to the fall of the city.
Read then served as executive officer of the CSS Arkansas during its actions against a blockading fleet of over 30 ships on the Mississippi River near Vicksburg, Mississippi on 13 July 1862.
Read served as acting commander of the CSS Arkansas during her final battle supporting the Confederate Army assaulting Baton Rouge, Louisiana on 6 August 1862.
After the sinking of the CSS Arkansas Read travelled by foot to Port Hudson, Louisiana and assisted with the emplacement of shore guns there.
Read was soon ordered to Mobile, Alabama and was assigned to the CSS Florida which set sail on 15 January 1863. He transferred to the CSS Clarence, a captured prize of the Florida, and set out on his own. During this raiding mission, which lasted from 6 June 1863 to 27 June 1863, Read transferred his command to prize vessels twice more, once to the CSS Tacony and finally to the CSS Archer.
At the end of the raid Lieutenant Read had captured or destroyed twenty-two United States vessels. He and his crew were captured off Portland, Maine while attempting to take the US Revenue Cutter Caleb Cushing. Read was held at Fort Warren, Massachusetts, until he was exchanged in 1864.
After his release Read participated in naval and land operations on the James River. In January 1865 he was assigned to the CSS Webb at Shreveport, Louisiana with the intention that she become a raider in the Pacific Ocean. Read did not reach the Webb until 22 April 1865. Read attempted to break out to the Gulf of Mexico but the Webb was intercepted by Federal Ironclads and destroyed. Read surrendered to Federal naval authorities in New Orleans and was transported again to Fort Warren, Massachusetts.
In 1867 Read was second officer aboard a ship involved in an effort to help Cuban rebels overthrow the Spanish government of the island. Read and others were arrested by the US government but quickly released.
Read earned the Confederate Medal of Honor for his service. Read earned his nickname "Savvy" or "Savez" due to his constant use of the term.
Charles Read died on 25 January 1890 in Meridian, Mississippi.