Charles Albright was born in Berks County, Pennsylvania on December 13, 1830, the son of Solomon and Mary Miller Albright. He was a student for a time at the select school at Seyfert's Mills near his home in 1845 and then enrolled at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania with the class of 1852 in September 1848. While at the College, he was a particularly active member of the Union Philosophical Society, chairing the committee, for example, that petitioned the board of trustees to expand the society's library in West College. He withdrew from his undergraduate course in 1851 to undertake the study of law with Robert L. Johnson in Edenburg, Pennsylvania.
By 1854 Albright had become involved as one of the secretaries of the Western Pennsylvania Kansas Company which intended to settle Kansas with men and families of solid anti-slavery and pro-temperance convictions. The company was organized in Conneaultville, Crawford County on September 16, 1854 and associated itself with the larger New York Kansas Society that sponsored the American Settlement Company. Two hundred Pennsylvanians set out for Kansas with the young Charles Albright guiding the party. The group arrived in Kansas City on November 9, 1854 but quickly lost organization and broke up. The American Settlement Company was more successful in setting up the town of Council City, now Burlingame, in Osage County. But the overall disorganization took its toll on the meticulous and ambitious Albright. He resigned in late 1854 as agent to the company, complaining to its president, Thaddeus Hyatt, that too many potential freesoilers were giving up and going home on seeing no preparations for their arrival and nothing but open prairie. In addition, Albright complained that the best land was set aside for the reserves of the indigenous tribes. Albright allied himself for a time with Governor Andrew Reeder but, on Reeder's dismissal and flight from Kansas in early 1856, he returned to Pennsylvania and took up his law practice in Mauch Chunk in Carbon County.
By this time an ardent Republican, Albright was a delegate to the Republican National Convention in Chicago that nominated Abraham Lincoln. He remained in the capital after the inauguration of the new president and volunteered in one of the companies of irregulars that Cassius M. Clay organized to protect Washington from sudden attack. In August 1862 he took a major's commission with the 132nd Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry and served at South Mountain and Fredericksburg. Casualties were heavy among the senior officers and after Fredericksburg, Albright took command of the regiment until its mustering out in May 1863. In January 1863, he served for a time in command of a brigade at Chancellorsville.
Mustered out of the 132nd, Albright commanded Camp Muhlenberg in Reading, Pennsylvania in June 1863. He then took command in July 1863 of one of the so-called "emergency regiments," the 34th Pennsylvania Militia, partially recruited in Carbon County, and marched with it to Philadelphia, where the authorities feared draft riots. He announced his unit's presence in the city by having them "clear their muskets" of old powder by firing them in the air on Chestnut Street then ordering them not to reload. This combination of noise and declaration of peaceful intent perhaps helped Philadelphia avoid the fate of New York. The 34th stood down in August and when trouble arose soon after in the Pennsylvania mining districts, Albright was dispatched there to arrest the ringleaders and restore calm.
Albright's regimental command experience was once again called to service in September, 1864 when he took charge of another newly raised unit, the 202nd Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry. This command saw difficult service guarding the Manassas Gap railway lines in Virginia from guerilla action. Albright, who had little patience with the rebellion - he considered Democrats as aiding the enemy, was not above firm action in this task, once burning all houses surrounding a portion of rail line that had been attacked and then forcing locals to ride in all trains to forestall sabotage to the tracks. On at least one defense of the rail line he faced a fellow Dickinsonian. On April 10, 1865, Albright reported to his superiors that he had met a raid from Captain George Baylor, class of 1860 and a fellow Union Philosophical member, and "whipped him like thunder." Albright had already by this time been named a Brevet Brigadier General, on March 25, 1865. The regiment spent its last days on home duty in the Lehigh Valley following the Confederate surrender and was mustered out in August 1865.
Albright resumed his career in Mauch Chunk where he had been named the president of the newly established Second Bank of Mauch Chunk in 1864. He also became involved with iron and slate interests in the area. Albright was elected to Congress as a Republican in 1872 and served one term, preferring not to stand for reelection. He did, however, serve as a delegate to the Philadelphia Republican Convention renominating President Grant and acted as chair of its committee on permanent organization. Back in the coal districts, he was the legal representative of the Lehigh and Wilkes-Barre Coal Company and, in this capacity, aided in the prosecution and trial of the so-called "Molly Maguires" who were resisting the mining companies absolute control in the coal areas. Specifically, he assisted in the 1876 trial and conviction of the four men accused of murdering the Tamaque chief of police; the four were hanged in Mauch Chunk the same year.
Albright married Naomi E. Wingard in 1852. A devout Methodist and non-smoking teetotaler, Albright attended the general conference of the church in 1872 in Brooklyn as a lay delegate. He was also elected to the board of trustees of his alma mater in 1879. This last service came to a premature end, however, when after several weeks of serious illness Charles Albright died at his home in Mauch Chunk on September 28, 1880. He was forty-nine years old.