Battle of New Orleans comes to life

Chalmette resident highlights women’s role at weekend re-enactment

Chalmette resident Kathy Cantrell has volunteered at the Battle of New Orleans anniversary for the past 20 years, portraying one of the civilians in New Orleans who rallied to support the troops. Dressed in the style of 1815, Cantrell will cook over an open fire while more than 150 other living history experts sew, clean muskets and perform drills at the Chalmette Battlefield on Friday and Saturday, bringing the era of the battle to life on its 198th anniversary. Visit the free annual event — part theater, part commemoration — from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday at the battlefield, 8606 West St. Bernard Highway. For information, call (504) 589-2636, ext. 1, or go to http://www.nps.gov/jela.

WHOM DO YOU PORTRAY? No one in particular, though I could portray my own ancestors, the Chalmet family. (They) had purchased a plantation house, and when the British arrived, they fled to their home in the French Quarter. We tell visitors that we are in the city of New Orleans and we are doing what the people in the city would have been doing at the time, which was preparing meals. And pretty much every woman in the city was sewing.

WHAT ARE YOU COOKING? AND DOES IT REALLY GET EATEN? On the school day, I do a turkey breast, and on Saturday, I do a big pot of red beans. And yes, I feed the men who are in Plauchet’s Battalion.

WHAT DO THE VISITORS WANT TO KNOW? They mostly want to know what I’m cooking, and if we’re really going to eat that.

WHY DO YOU VOLUNTEER? I find history fascinating, and this is one of the battles or the wars that people don’t really know about. I can remember back in grade school doing projects on the Battle of New Orleans. Many years later, a friend and I were walking on the battlefield and we saw a flier asking for volunteers. We didn’t know what we were getting into.

DOES A BATTLE QUALIFY AS FAMILY ENTERTAINMENT? I think there’s something for everybody. The kids love it when they see the muskets go off and the cannons being fired. For those who are really interested in military history, they can get the American side, they can get the British side. We have some people that come back year after year, because they’re so interested, and they enjoy it. Not that it is a fun thing. I mean, it is a war.

SOME OF THE RE-ENACTORS SPEND THE NIGHT ON THE BATTLEFIELD. WHAT ABOUT YOU? I have spent the night out there, but since I live 2 minutes away, it’s nice to come home and enjoy the nice, hot shower and the comfortable bed. It tends to be pretty cold out there.