A delightful NY Times article by Jon Grinspan called “How Coffee Fueled the Civil War” (thanks, Eric!) is worth reading for any coffee lover (there are tasty quotes like a soldier’s “what keeps me alive must be the coffee” and Gen. Butler’s “if your men get their coffee early in the morning you can hold”), but what brings me to post it here is this sentence: “Men ground the beans themselves (some carbines even had built-in grinders) and brewed it in little pots called muckets.” Naturally I was intrigued by the final word and looked it up, but I was unable to find it in any of my reference works. Both Webster’s Third and the OED know it only as a freshwater mussel (OED, updated March 2003: “A North American freshwater mussel of the family Unionidae; spec. Actinonaias ligamentina of the eastern United States or a related species, usually of the genus Lampsilis or Leptodea“), and the Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang (Vol. 2) and Jonathon Green’s Cassell’s Dictionary of Slang know it only as “a hairpiece” (HDAS: “origin unknown”; Green: “? var. on SE merkin, a pubic wig”). Googling gets me this, from Palmer H. Boeger’s “Hardtack and Burned Beans” (Civil War History 4:1, March 1958, pp. 73-92, quote from p. 89):
Veterans despised the coffee boiled at the company cook shack and boasted about brewing their own to just the right strength and flavor. Early in the war many soldiers of the Army of the Potomac carried a small tin pail with a cover and a wooden handle called a “mucket” in which to boil their coffee.
I’m guessing that’s where Grinspan got it. If anyone knows more about this mysterious term, go ahead and spill the beans.