As an Austrian subject he entered the imperial army at an early age. He distinguished himself by his valor in the Seven Years' War, notably at Breslau, Leuthen, Hochkirch and Maxen. After the war, he rose rapidly to the rank of lieutenant field marshal. He was given the rank of field marshal (1809) and an honorary command at court.
His writings reflect with mild irony the spectacle of a society in decay, slowly going to its doom in the French Revolution. He died during the Congress of Vienna, on Dec. 13, 1814 in Vienna, in order, as he said shortly before his death, to give its members an unusual distraction: the funeral of a marshal. His works occupy about forty volumes, published with the title, Melanges militaires, littéraires, litteraires, sentimentaires (1796); they deal with strategy and logistics but contain also many curious letters, literary criticism of great acumen, very elegantly written memoirs, and an indifferent tragedy; his epigrams are amusing and succinct. The memoirs, letters, and reflections of the Prince von Ligne have been translated into English.
His writings reflect with mild irony the spectacle of a society in decay, slowly going to its doom in the French Revolution.
He was described by one of his biographers as "a genius of life, " and, indeed, his whole adventurous career never lacked devotion to the accepted niceties, gracious living and gracious writing.
Voltaire appreciated him highly, and he was in touch with all the important men of his time.
On 6 August 1755, in Valtice or Feldsberg, Charles-Joseph married Princess Franziska Xaveria Maria of Liechtenstein (Vienna, 27 November 1739 – Vienna, 17 May 1821), sister of Franz Joseph I, Prince of Liechtenstein. The couple had seven children.
He also had two illegitimate daughters: "Adèle" (1809–1810) by Adelaide Fleury; and another one by Angélique d'Hannetaire (1749–1822).