What was the effect of the battles of Fredericksburg and Stones River on Union soldiers?
As with many of the battles in the early years of the War Between the States, the Battle of Fredericksburg was a military disaster for the Union, resulting in thousands of dead Union soldiers. So horrific was the loss of Union soldiers, that Confederate General James Longstreet described the slaughter of the enemy as like "the steady dripping of rain from the caves of a house." The commander of all Southern forces, General Robert E. Lee, similarly observed from the beating Union troops took at the hands of soldiers under his command: "It is well that war is so terrible, lest we should grow too fond of it." Geoffrey Ward, in his history of the Civil War, quotes one Union soldier as writing following the battle, "Our poppycorn generals kill men as Herod killed the innocents."
The Battle of Fredericksburg in December 1862 dealt a major psychological blow to the Union soldiers who fought in it. Union military leaders who still unable to prove themselves the equal -- let alone the better -- of their Confederate counterparts. That the Battle of Fredericksburg involved virtually all of the most respected Confederate generals -- in addition to Lee and Longstreet, A.P. Hill and Stonewall Jackson were intimately involved -- the mental anguish felt by Northern soldiers was truly intense.
Barely two weeks later, the Battle of Stone's River would represent the gradual shift in momentum from South to North. While both sides in the battle suffered serious losses, the Union soldiers were able to hold their own against the Confederacy. There was no real military victor at Stone's River, but the battle proved a decisive psychological victory for the Union by virtue of its ability to fight to a draw. So important was the Battle of Stone's River to Union morale that President Lincoln wrote to Union General William Rosecrans, "You gave us a hard-earned victory, which had there been a defeat there instead, the nation could scarcely have lived over."