Educated private schools in Richmond until 1861.
After war first worked as farm hand for food and lodging, then at hard work in tannery, grocers’ clerk, booksellers’ clerk, then for self as bookseller, publisher and stationer; was supplemental accountant.
Besides being Richmond's elected mayor from 1904 to 1908, McCarthy also made other contributions to Richmond life, such as being the primary author of a 1914 ordinance to adopt a Richmond flag.
He wrote a book about his four years of experience in a book called Detailed Minutiae of Soldier Live in the Army of Northern Virginia 1861-1865.,first published by Carlton McCarthy and Company in 1882 with a second edition published in 1888. A copy of this book is on display at the Museum of the Confederacy as well as at the Virginia Historical Society.
His writings have been featured in other publications, such as chapter 6 of The Civil War Soldier: A Historical Reader by Michael Barton, Larry M. Logue and a chapter in Albert Bushnell Hart's book, The Romance of the Civil War, published in 1896 and now in the public domain.
McCarthy also authored a book in 1871 (published by McCarthy & Ellyson) entitled Walks about Richmond: a story for boys, and a guide to persons visiting the city, desiring to see the principal points of interest.
Mary Holt Carlton wrote a book about Carlton in 1986, called Richmond's `Live Wire' Mayor 1904-1908.
Member of advisory bd., Home for Needy Confederate Women; member of Richmond E. Lee Camp, No. 1, U.C.V., Richmond Howitzer Assn., Assn. Army Northern Virginia., Civic Improvement League, Commission on Progress for Richmond,
Member advisory board, Home for Needy Confederate Women. Member R. E. Lee Camp, Northern 1, U.C.V., Richmond Howitzer Association, Association Army Northern Virginia, Civic Improvement League, Committee on Progress for Richmond, Richmond Ednl. Association; Club: Commonwealth.