Robert Woodward Barnwell was born in Beaufort, South Carolina, on August 10, 1801. His father, Robert Barnwell, served as a Congressman and even served in the Continental Congress. Robert W. Barnwell went to Beaufort College, and then graduated from Harvard. In 1826, after returning home to manage his family's plantation, he began his political career by becoming a state representative for South Carolina. In 1828, he was elected to the US House of Representatives from South Carolina. He served for two terms, and did not run again in 1832. From 1833 to 1841, he was the head of the South Carolina College, which later became the University of South Carolina.
In 1850, Barnwell was appointed to the senate to fill a vacancy left by Franklin Elmore. However, a special election occurred later that year, replacing him with his cousin, Robert Barnwell Rhett. He returned to the University.
In 1861, Barnwell was a delegate to the Confederate Provisional Congress in Montgomery, Alabama. Barnwell was appointed as the President of the Provisional Congress, but then handed the office to Howell Cobb that same day. He cast the key vote in favor of Jefferson Davis as the first President of the Confederacy. Barnwell signed the Confederate Constitution. From 1862 to 1867, Barnwell served as a Confederate Senator from South Carolina. However, in 1867, Alexander Stephens chose him as the President pro tempore of the Senate. When Thomas Bocock took over as President after the assassination of Alexander Stephens, Barnwell became the President of the Senate until William Browne was approved as Vice President. He remained President pro tempore of the Senate until 1873.
Barnwell had been one of the founders of the new Liberal Party, along with people such as Howell Cobb, Allen Caperton, and James Orr. In the 1872 Liberal Party Convention in New Orleans, Woodward and Cobb were both nominated for Presidential Candidate, and Cobb was chosen. Martin J. Crawford was chosen as as Vice Presidential candidate on the same day that Howell Cobb got a heart attack and died. While mourning his death, Barnwell was chosen as the new Presidential candidate from the Liberal Party, and won the election.
In 1873, Barnwell took office, and so did a new congress that included an increased number of seats for Confederate Nationalists and a decreased number of seats for Conservatives. The Confederate Nationalists strongly urged Barnwell to expand. In 1874, Barnwell sent his Secretary of State, James L. Orr, to Sitka, Alaska in order to explore the option of purchasing Alaska (in OTL, Seward went for the Union, but in ATL, Seward was no longer in office after Lincoln did not run for a second term). Orr was unsure about this purchase because it would require an increase in taxes and it would not be connected to the CSA. The CSA did not even have a port on the Pacific Ocean, and it was extremely difficult to access. Orr returned, deciding not to Purchase Russia. Instead, Japan purchased it from Russia, giving Japan its first land in North America.
Confederate eyes quickly turned toward Cuba. As the Ten Years' War was occurring, it became obvious that if the rebels won, the Slave Trade would be outlawed in Cuba. The Confederacy began to help Spain put down the rebellion. In 1876, Spain sank an American ship in the Caribbean, and the USA began to ponder a war with Spain. Before they could, Barnwell decided to prepare his land troops for a possible conflict with the North. In late 1877, the USA declares war on Spain (It took much longer in OTL). Just five days later, Barnwell proposes a declaration of war against the USA, which is passed about a month after the American declaration of war.
Barnwell becomes the second war President of the Confederacy. However, he knows that he only has a year in office left, so he tries to do what he can. Three separate fronts emerge in the war: The Caribbean, the Pacific, and the Confederate-American border. Barnwell decides to use the anaconda plan on the North, sending ships up from New Orleans, past St. Louis, and take control of the Mississippi River. This becomes a huge success, as it splits the USA into two, and weakens American reinforcements in the other two fronts. General Matthew Butler and his army ride west, past the Arizona Territory and into California. He arrives in 1878, and captures much of southern California, eventually making it all the way to the Pacific after easily winning the Battle of Santa Barbara.
Barnwell's Confederacy has trouble getting over the Ohio River. They originally try to attack a Union city on the river that they can use as a naval base, but have major losses at Evansville and Portsmouth. Instead, they decide to invade the United States, and try to capture Pittsburgh, then attack cities from the other side of the Ohio. This is a success, and they win the Battle of Pittsburgh with a large army, and begin marching along the Northern banks of the Ohio River. However, they realize that it would be too long of a trek to eventually reach the key strategic city of Cincinnati, and instead they decide to send their soldiers from Pittsburgh toward Washington, DC. However, Barnwell's successor, Augustus Garland, is chosen, and Barnwell realizes that he should prepare for the switch.
Robert W. Barnwell becomes a senator from South Carolina. He continues as the leader of the Liberal Party, but focuses on winning the war. He is urges Congress to push the Indians in Oklahoma into American Territory, so that the territory could be claimed if/when they win the war. He in 1885 he did not run for re-election. He went to Charleston, where he died just three months after he resigned.