Isaac Howell Carrington was born on March 7, 1827, in Richmond at the residence of his great-grandfather, Robert Gamble. He was the son of Paul S. Carrington, a Charlotte County planter, and Emma Catherine Cabell Carrington. Well connected to the influential families of Virginia, he was a grandson of William H. Cabell, a former governor and then judge of the Virginia Court of Appeals, and of Paul Carrington, a Speaker of the Senate of Virginia and judge of the General Court. Carrington was raised in Charlotte County and studied in local schools before attending the University of North Carolina from 1842 to 1844 and the University of Virginia, where he studied law, from 1845 to 1846. He read law with James M. Whittle in Pittsylvania County and practiced with him until the Civil War began. On April 19, 1853, Carrington married a cousin, Mary Claiborne Coles. They had two daughters and two sons. One of Carrington’s sons was stillborn, the other drowned as a child, and his wife died of liver disease on March 8, 1860.
On June 12, 1861, Carrington was commissioned a major in the 38th Virginia Infantry Regiment and was mustered into Confederate service on the same day. The regiment arrived too late to participate in the First Battle of Manassas and saw little action before going into winter quarters. Carrington was ill and absent from January 13 to the end of February 1862, but he was present in April when the regiment was posted to the Middle Peninsula. At the election of officers on May 12, 1862, Carrington was not reelected. He served as chief of staff to Brigadier General John B. Floyd for several months and then late in May 1863 applied for a position as a judge of the courts-martial established under a recent act of the Confederate Congress. On June 16, 1863, Carrington was appointed assistant quartermaster with the rank of captain to date from May 29, but soon thereafter he declined the position.
Military Prisons in Richmond
In March 1864 the secretary of war appointed Carrington provost marshal for the city of Richmond with responsibility for issuing passports to all persons leaving the city. He signed such a pass on June 15, 1864, for President Jefferson Davis. Carrington also tried to monitor the actions of suspected deserters, spies, stragglers, and other people who might threaten local security. In mid-February 1865 his commanding officer, Lieutenant General Richard S. Ewell, ordered him to make plans to destroy the cotton, tobacco, and military and naval stores that might be in danger of capture. On April 2, 1865, Carrington was also appointed superintendent for recruiting African American soldiers for the Confederate States Army, but on that same day the Confederate government abandoned Richmond, leaving the city undefended.
Carrington prepared to burn the warehouses and posted guards to prevent interference. He notified the city fire chief and requested that firefighters and equipment be ready to prevent the flames from spreading. Unfortunately, the wind began to blow soon after the first warehouses were set ablaze. Aided by disorderly residents and soldiers, who were drinking the capital’s alcohol supply as city officials tried to destroy it and who even chopped up the fire hoses, the flames spread unchecked during the night. Much of the business district of Richmond was destroyed in the fire and accompanying riot.
Carrington left the city soon after dawn on April 3, surrendered in Danville, and was paroled as a prisoner of war on May 4, 1865. He escaped blame for the Richmond fire, which fell on Ewell, but he was accused of complicity in the improper use of thousands of dollars in U.S. funds and gold that Union prisoners of war in Richmond had turned over after their capture. The army arrested Carrington on May 12 after his return to Richmond and investigated the fate of the money sent for relief of the prisoners. Exonerated, he was released on June 29 and took the oath of allegiance on the following day. Carrington then applied for a pardon and enclosed documents indicating that he had been cleared of suspicion in the misappropriation of the prisoner funds. On September 20, 1865, he received a presidential pardon.
On November 7, 1865, Carrington married Anne Seddon Smith at Glen Roy in Gloucester County. They had three sons and four daughters, but death struck his second family as it had his first. Only two sons and two daughters lived to adulthood. Carrington resumed the practice of law in partnership with the Richmond attorney Robert Ould, the former Confederate agent for prisoner exchange, who also had been arrested during the investigation of the prisoner fund. They earned a high reputation in the emerging field of corporate law. After Ould’s death in 1882, Carrington practiced law with Edward Henry Fitzhugh for several years. A member of the board of visitors of the University of Virginia from 1873 until 1875, Carrington became president of the Richmond Bar Association in February 1886 and was holding that office at his death.
In August 1886 Carrington suffered an attack of Bright’s disease and died in Richmond on January 30, 1887. He was buried in the city’s Hollywood Cemetery.