A native of Charleston, South Carolina, Ingraham was appointed Midshipman in the United States Navy on 18 June 1812 at the age of 10. After years of distinguished service, he was commissioned Captain 14 September 1855. While in command of the sloop-of-war St. Louis in the Mediterranean, in July 1853, he interfered with the detention by the Austrian consul at Smyrna (Izmir, Turkey) of Martin Koszta, a Hungarian who had declared in New York his intention of becoming an American citizen, and, who had been seized and confined in the Austrian ship Hussar. For his conduct in this matter he was voted thanks and a Gold Medal by Congress.
Captain Ingraham served as Chief of the Bureau of Ordnance and Hydrographer of the Navy from 1856 until 1860.