The victory of Yorktown was an accident, but the American quest for freedom with the fullest rights of Englishmen was no accident. And at Yorktown this weekend ceremonies celebrated both the marvelous accidental victory and the freedom that was bound to be won even if it took forever.
Yesterday the river front of Yorktown village and of Gloucester Point across the mile-wide York, were full of typical Americans, snapping cameras at each other and getting Mr. Edmondson's barbershop (closed Sundays and Mondays) in the background as if it were a sacred monument.
And perhaps it is. The ragtag, unwashed boys off farms won the first triumph of the nation, as they will probably win the last.
You may well have set next to just such a youth yesterday at Abingdon Church, a few miles down the road; one of the largest colonial churches, unsurpassed anywhere for the refinement of its brick masonry, and unsurpassed for its place in the hearts of Virginians.
It was a rector of this church who first in these colonies urged before the House of Burgesses in 1771 that the king of England be dethroned in America. It is believed this was the first open public cry for independence heard from these shores.
The youth in blue jeans and wool shirt with a shock of straw-colored hair may have descended from the proudest names of America, or he may have been new from Poland. It hardly made any difference, either to the church or the Republic.
Opposite him, he could see the benches of the Warners, maternal grandparents of George Washington. Above him, in the north gallery, had sat Thomas Jefferson and, later, Gen. Lee.
Washington himself often came to this church of his grandparents. Long before he was born, this was the most densely peopled county of Virginia.
Here and there beneath the gallery of organ and stringed instruments (the musicians played Bach and Corelli) were officials of the colonial Danes whose first project in the last century was the repair of this church.
The 17th-century tombs flanked the walk to the front door, and as you entered, it was clear that what the small organ lacked in state trumpets, it made up for in earnest flutes.
The local Lutherans joined in and did not seem to mind the sung liturgy which -- and to hell with modern bishops -- was the one from the reign of King Edward VI.
"I will loose the loins of kings, and the gates shall not be shut. I will go before thee and make the crooked places straight: I will break in pieces the gates of brass and cut in sunder the bars of iron. Ask me of things to come concerning my sons I have raised him up in righteousness and I will direct all his ways. He shall build my city."
And so on.
Eyes front. Face straight. Heart racing. As Washington's did, when he heard the words long ago from the same chancel.
Everywhere in Yorktown, today shares with yesterday the first big dream of the continent; and memory, for a surprising change, is on men's minds tomorrow, when President Reagan will speak to conclude the ceremonies memorializing the long American fight.
The Sons of the Revolution yesterday dedicated a bust of the French Adm. de Grasse at the Victory Center; the day before, the Society of the Cincinnati dedicated a bust of Washington.
If you lunched at a neighborhood motel the old gentleman you spoke to might prove to be Hamilton Fish, for 25 years a congressman from New York. Now he walks with a stick and his blue eyes water, but his voice is (if it does not give him apoplexy to hear it) as strong and rich as Roosevelt's, whom he wrangled with for years.
"The unsung hero of Yorktown is of course de Grasse," he thundered. "People think of Washington and Rochambeau, but it was de Grasse who paralyzed the British fleet, ensuring victory. It was de Grasse with the 3,000 French marines who gave the allied force a dominance of 2-to-1 over the British.
"The outcome would have been the same if Washington and Rochambeau had never arrived. They merely made it 3 to 1.
"And why don't you hear of de Grasse? Because later he was defeated and captured. That was by some thought shameful. So he has never had the proper honor.
"If you would bring me some tin foil, I'd like to take this beef home to my 4-pound white poodle.
"I do not hear so well now. I suppose you love Walter Cronkite. All you fellas seem to. Well, once he would not let me say, on the long interview they taped for television, my thoughts on our nation's defense.
"The media do not want to hear any of that. For many years it has been known, the Russian's nuclear superiority. But nobody wishes to face it.
"Take just one aspect of it, their 300-plus warheads of many megaton strength -- they have many others besides these -- that make a fireball a mile in diameter. They hardly need so many. They have more than enough to tend to China and Europe as well as the United States.
"I have recommended to the Defense Department that instead of all this MX business and other things that will take 10 years and then not work, we need to make only 100 such weapons and store them deep in the Rocky Mountains. So they would know that whatever they did we would still have enough to destroy them.
"Well, what can one man do? Nobody wants to hear an old man.
"It was the young man who wanted Yorktown. My forebear Nicholas Fish was second in command to Alexander Hamilton, who led the American forces. Lafayette, Hamilton, all of them were under 25.
"As everybody knows, or could know, the victory of Yorktown depended on the attack on two British redoubts. The French took one. The Americans under Hamilton took the other. My forebear was Hamilton's executor, by the way, which is why I possess so many letters from Lafayette.
"But what I was going to say is it was New York boys, not southerners, who stormed that redoubt and took it. You might want to point that out to southern readers.
"Thank you for the tin foil. If I get home tonight New York my dog will bless you.
"I have always opposed war, and sometimes it has made trouble for me. But I have always believed in defense, to help prevent it. I often feel I am a voice in the wilderness. But what can one man do?"
The preacher at Abingdon had said the new freedom gained by the Revolution included the freedom to avoid responsibility, the freedom to be (though it was not his word) a bastard, letting the devil take any man who could not scramble up life's ladder. But that was not, he supposed, the freedom for which men died.
Outside, the weak sun came and went. The tall, tiny, steep-pitched American tents by the battlefield sometimes looked dingy and sometimes gleaned like stars.