Like many other African American slaves, Siah Carter sought freedom adn refure in the Union Navy along the myriad waterways of the southern interior. At the time he joined the Union Navy, Carter was a slave at the Shirley Plantation in Charles City, Virginia. He became the first of eigtheen slaves to escape from Shirley Plantation in 1862, Twenty-two year old Carter fled down the James River two months after the Battle of Hampton Roads, finding USS Monitor laying at anchor. He enlisted aboard the ironclad as a "first class boy," serving as a coal heaver and cook's assistant for the duration of the ship's short existance. Carter survived the sinking of the famed vessels in December 1862, going on to serve on several other Union ships until the end of the war. He was discharged from the Union Navy in May 1865 and returned to Shirley Plantation to wed former slave Eliza Tarrow. They eventually settled in Bermuda Hundred, Virginia, and raised thirteen children.