Trenton, NJ--The most coveted soldier reenactment position in the country is the role of a Hessian troop on Christmas night in 1776 during the Revolutionary War's Battle of Trenton. On this night, General George Washington and company bravely crossed the icy Delaware River and surprised the Hessian troops occupying the town of Trenton several miles downstream.
The Hessians were so busy celebrating the Christmas holiday that they offered little resistance to the advancing Americans.
"[The Hessians] were totally shit-faced," said reenactor James Vanze, referring to the absurd quantities of libations the mercenary troops indulged in that night 232 years ago.
Though St Pauly Girl was not available in 1776, the Hessians celebrated mostly with beer. Historical reports and journals have the party in Trenton being so raucous that soldiers sang songs using powderhorns as megaphones. Musket balls were used for juggling and not firing, and, so relaxed were the hired guns, that flintlocks sat unattended next to cannon ramrods.
It is this festive atmosphere that makes the Battle of Trenton reenactment the most popular in the nation. Soldiers apply for reenactment positions two years prior to the event, which is officially called: The Coors Light Hessian Troop Festival Extravaganza at the Yuengling Battle of Trenton Reenactment.
"We received over 25,000 applications this year," said Tom Schmidt, head of the Trenton Historical Society, which oversees the Hessian gathering. "We are only able to accept 200 soldiers. It is hyper-competitive." (New Jersey law prohibits historical military gatherings in excess of 200 people.)
Jim Tomling, a reenactor from northern California, participated in his first, and probably last, Trenton reenactment yesterday. Tomling's wife and three small children made the trek to celebrate the holiday together.
"It was incredible. This has been a two year process and it was all I thought it would be and more. I was so freakin' drunk. I just kept drinking and talking fake German," said Tomling, who was chosen by the selection committee despite not being able to speak fluent German.
Tomling was also lucky enough to win the role of learning from a local colonial boy, played by 12-year-old Princeton, NJ, resident Kevin Cornly, that the Americans were coming.
"It's one of the biggest roles. I had to run around the camp, while completely wasted, trying to convince the other soldiers that Washington was right down the road. I don't know how they chose me for that role. I feel like I'm dreaming right now," said a giddy Tomling.
Between reenactors and thousands of onlookers, more beer is served and consumed at the event than twenty NFL stadiums on gameday.
One amazed reveler reported: "I've never seen the reenactors as drunk as they were today. I mean, drunker than ever."