On the night of November 23, 1864, a group of ordnance officers, army and navy, met at the Washington residence of Commander H. A. Wise, chief of the Bureau of Ordnance, to consider one of the most novel propositions ever submitted to a military council—improvising an earthquake.
The conference had been called by G. V. Fox, Assistant Secretary of the Navy, one of the most alert figures of the Civil War Period. The objective under consideration just then was the destruction of the Confederate forts at the mouth of the Cape Fear River on the North Carolina coast, in order to seal the port of Wilmington, the fast resort of the elusive commerce earners of the beleaguered Confederacy. By the contemplated earthshock it was hoped to shake down one of the Confederate works upon the heads of its garrison and simplify the problem of taking possession of the Cape Fear River.