Robert L. Tolson, a retired sheet metal worker and Civil War historian and re-enactor, died of respiratory failure Monday at his home in Lansdowne. He was 73.
Mr. Tolson was born and raised in a Griffith Avenue rowhouse in Baltimore's Morrell Park, and learned his trade attending a city vocational school. He retired in 1991 from Maryland Environmental Services.
Mr. Tolson fell under the spell of the Civil War when he learned that several relatives had fought with the Confederate Army. After he married, he discovered that his wife's great-grandfather from Massachusetts had served with Union forces.
He read widely on the subject and amassed an impressive collection of Union memorabilia, including bayonets, military decorations, canteens, uniform buttons, swords -- even a 250-pound cannonball.
"His collection was extensive and very fine," said longtime friend Howard H. Olver.
"He adopted the 1st Maine Light Artillery and had an authentic heavy wool uniform made. He'd wear the uniform when speaking to students, Scouts and church groups and always introduced himself as Captain Tolson of the 1st Maine," said Michael Allen, a son-in-law.
With his uniform, period sideburns, rimless glasses and cap, Mr. Tolson looked as though he had stepped from another time. He also attended re-enactments and was a background extra in Gods and Generals, a motion picture about the Battle of Gettysburg released this year.
He was also very knowledgeable on local as well as Virginia and Washington Civil War history. He was a member for many years of the Baltimore Civil War Roundtable, joining other enthusiasts and scholars at its monthly discussions.
"He always wore a Union wool blue kepi, which, of course, was the cap worn during the Civil War," said Earle E. Hollenbaugh, vice president of the roundtable.
"He really knew his stuff and was always asking biting questions," said Duane E. Tressler, a member of the Friends of the President Street Station and Civil War Museum in Baltimore.
Mr. Tolson was a founder of the now-defunct Lansdowne Historical Society. He helped get Lansdowne Christian Church -- built in 1902, with two stained-glass windows dedicated to soldiers of the Grand Army of the Republic -- added to the National Register of Historic Places.
He collected antique toys and antique furniture, and collected and repaired other toys for distribution to needy children.
Mr. Tolson planned his own service, which re-created a Civil War-era funeral. It took place yesterday at Lansdowne United Methodist Church, where he was a member.
"He was buried in a plain pine coffin from the period and was dressed in his uniform. The hymns he chose included `The Vacant Chair,' `The Battle Hymn of the Republic,' `My Country 'Tis of Thee,' `America the Beautiful' and, finally, `Dixie,'" his son-in-law said. The service also included a procession of Civil War-era flags, a bagpiper and an honor guard of re-enactors from Friends of the President Street Station in 1860s uniforms.
Mr. Tolson was married for 45 years to the former Priscilla J. Manley, who died in 1997.
Mr. Tolson is survived by two daughters, Priscilla Jane Allen of Lansdowne and Dorothy G. Cordell of Baltimore, and several nieces and nephews.