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January 16, 1994|CHARLES SOLOMON

MOUNT VERNON: The Civil War Years: The Presence of a Lady by Dorothy Troth Muir (The Mount Vernon Ladies' Assn., Mount Vernon, Va . 22121: $10.95; 136 pp., paperback original). In 1860, the women of the United States, represented by the Mount Vernon Ladies' Assn., purchased George Washington's estate to preserve for future generations. When the Civil War broke out, the members of the association agreed that "the presence of a lady" was the best way to ensure the safety of the historic site. Sarah Tracy, secretary to the regent of the association, spent the war there with a chaperon, a handyman and a few servants. Although several major battles (1st Manassas, Antietam Creek, Bull Run) were fought near Mount Vernon, both sides respected its absolute neutrality. Compiled from letters and diaries, this charming chronicle presents a vivid account of one woman's courage, and a little-known chapter in American history.

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