He fled his native island after losing all his property in the Civil War of 1866, and he settled in Bayamó, Cuba, as a fanner. Shortly after the Grito de Yara (the first proclamation of independence) in 1868, Goméz joined the forces of Carlos Manuel de Céspedes as a sergeant and led a contingent of Dominican exiles in skirmishes with Spanish forces in Oriente Province during the early phases of the Ten Years' War (1868-1878). The experience he had gained fighting the Spanish in Santo Domingo was invaluable to the incipient revolutionary forces in Cuba.
Gómez rose to the rank of commander of rebel forces in Oriente, and his genius as a military strategist and leader was clear. He was the principal leader of a group that included Calixto García Iñiguéz and Antonio Maceo y Grajales and that developed and refined the art of guerrilla warfare. Many of Gómez' ideas on the topic would be carefully studied by a later generation of Cuban revolutionaries led by Fidel Castro and Ernesto “Che" Guevara.
Throughout the Ten Years’ War. Gómez repeatedly advocated military in¬vasion of the western provinces of Cuba, which represented the greatest wealth to Spain. He waged a campaign of devastation in the Province of Las Villas in 1875. When the civilian leadership of the revolution continued to thwart his demands to wage a concentrated campaign in the west, Gómez became disillusioned and urged that a peace treaty be arranged with Spain. Following the Pact of Zanjón which ended the Ten Years' War. Gómez went into exile in Honduras.
During the next 15 years, Maximo Gómez laid plans for a future revolution against Spain with José Marti and Antonio Maceo. In January 1893 Gómez was appointed chief of the Cuban Revolutionary Party, created by Marti in New York in 1881. In March 1895 Gómez and Marti issued the Manifiesto de Monti Cristi, a declaration of war against Spain. Two weeks later, Gómez and Marti landed on Cuban soil.
Following the death of Martí, Gómez was declared general en jefe by the Republic in Arms. As both the major military and political leader of the rebellion, Gómez launched a campaign to capture control of western Cuba, the goal that had eluded him in the Ten Years’ War. To achieve the military and economic defeat of Spain, Gómez again ordered that sugarcane fields and centrales be destroyed and workers terrorized. Although his policy of carrying fire and sword indiscriminately into the western part of the island may have set the stage for Spain’s final defeat, that same policy devastated the island s economic base and crippled the young republic soon to be bom.
A special constitutional provision was passed making Gómez eligible for the presidency of the republic. However, he refused to run tor office, believing that the first president should be a native-born Cuban.