Civilian military duty in New Hampshire was required by law until 1851, when the state had 42 regiments. Local companies of militia would gather annually for parade and inspection at their regiment's fall muster -- often involving a thousand or more men from half a dozen towns. Food and alcohol vendors, showmen, fiddlers, auctioneers, charlatans, gamblers, and several thousand spectators turned these gatherings into regional festivals in an era of few such diversions. Muster days thus structured social interactions among a regiment's towns in ways not duplicated since.
Patriotic enthusiasm from the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812 carried over into musters, but by 1830, muster days were under attack from those who resented the required participation. They were joined by temperance advocates, who objected to the considerable public drunkenness attending each muster, and later by critics of the Mexican War, who claimed that the existence of a peace-time militia had in fact led to this conflict. Ironically, the abandonment of muster days and the militia system left New Hampshire totally unprepared for the Civil War.
Researched from state and town archives, town histories, early newspapers, and private collections of unpublished letters and documents, this study sheds light on a little known aspect of the Granite State’s past.
"Their general good conduct on the field was creditable to officers and soldiers – with the exception of a few, (such as never know how to leave off when they have done), who fired promiscuously about the plain a long time after they had been dismissed, a practice always disreputable to good soldiers and the officers to whom they belong. the occasion attracted an unusual assemblage of spectators, pedlers, rumsellers, rumdrinkers and gamblers; whose noise, ribaldry, intoxication, and violation of the laws in the face and eyes of the authorities, was disgraceful to the place, to the occasion, to those specially engaged in it, and to all who looked on and tolerated it. We leave it to the people to judge whether there be more good than evil derived from ‘making a muster.’"
Report of the Amherst Muster Day from The Farmers’ Cabinet, 1834
Middlesex County Volunteers Fifes & Drums Corp